Leach Talking With Ravens, Return Still Possible
After cutting Vonta Leach, General Manager Ozzie Newsome said there would be a chance the veteran fullback could return to Baltimore after exploring the free agent market.
Few believed it would actually happen, but it appears those chances are improving.
Despite drawing interest from the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and New York Giants, Leach says he's still in contact with the Ravens and is open to returning.
"Me and Newsome], [we talk once a week and [we'll] see how everything goes," Leach said yesterday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "He knows the process and me and him are going to let the process play out."
The Ravens have always been open to keeping Leach, but they couldn't justify taking a reported $4.3 million salary cap hit for a bruising fullback whose role diminished as the Ravens offense focused more on its passing game. After failing to agree to terms on a restructured contract, the organization released the three-time Pro Bowler on June 11.
Ravens brass reportedly offered Leach a new deal of $2 million plus incentives. Leach passed, and both sides were willing to revisit the situation after Leach explored potential interest from other teams.
"If I'm back with the Ravens, there's still no hard feelings," he said. "They let me catch the market and see what my market value is."
Unless one of the suitors ups the ante, ESPN's Jamison Hensley says the Ravens' offer "could end up being the best one on the table."
But it's not over yet, and Leach said he wants to take his time to weigh all of his options.
The Giants called Leach's agent the first day he was a free agent, and may consider increasing their offer. His former team, the Texans, is still in the mix. And ESPN's Adam Schefter said it would be a "major upset" if Leach landed anywhere other than Miami because the Dolphins "want him too much."
Right now, Leach is keeping an open mind and isn't ruling anyone out, including the Ravens.
"You never can be surprised by anything that can happen in this league, man," he said. "I didn't get released from Baltimore because of my play. It was just because my salary cap number. The thing is, when you talk about salary cap, once the fullback starts making a lot of money, they are the first one that probably is asked to take a pay cut and stuff. But just like I said, I have no hard feelings with Baltimore or with the Ravens' organization. It's first class and everything was good."
Ravens vs. Pats: Revisiting TEs From 2010 Draft
Just a few months ago, the Ravens could have been criticized for passing on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, says Hensley, but now the franchise "could make out in the long run."
With Gronkowski still on the board, the Ravens traded out of the first round of the 2010 draft and got three draft picks in exchange (43, 70, 114).
With those picks, the Ravens drafted Sergio Kindle, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
Gronkowski was taken by the Patriots one pick before Baltimore selected Kindle in the second round. The Ravens passed on tight end Aaron Hernandez three times, then ended up selecting Pitta one spot after Hernandez was taken by the Patriots in the fourth round.
The final tight end draft order between the Ravens and Patriots was:
Round 2 (42 overall): Gronkowski
Round 3 (70 overall): Dickson
Round 4 (113 overall): Hernandez
Round 4 (114 overall): Pitta
Hensley's observation comes after Gronkowski underwent surgery four times on his left arm in the last year and had back surgery this month. And Hernandez is currently the subject of a homicide investigation.
"[Gronkowski's] back problems in college caused many teams, including the Ravens, to take him off their draft board," Hensley wrote. "Both of their situations make them question marks heading into this season and beyond.
"Over the past three seasons, the Bengals [who also passed on the Pats tight ends] and Ravens would have been more productive in the passing game with Gronkowski and Hernandez. But, when projecting the next three seasons, Cincinnati and Baltimore may fare better with its current tight ends if they choose to keep them."
Pitta and Dickson were both given one-year restricted free agent tenders this offseason, and both are projected to be a big part of the Ravens offense.
"While Dickson's numbers fell last season, Pitta had a breakthrough season. Pitta figures to be the Ravens' No. 1 or No. 2 pass-catcher this season after Baltimore traded Anquan Boldin to San Francisco," Hensley wrote.
Top TEs and RBs For 2016
Speaking of Pitta, ESPN projected him to be among the top 10 tight ends in 2016.
The website did not include Dickson as part of the top 10, but said they could become one of the league's best tight end tandems if they stay together in Baltimore.
"He has a great relationship with his QB, Joe Flacco," Gary Horton wrote. "The Ravens could actually have the best duo of the future when you add Ed Dickson to the mix as the superior in-line blocker in two-TE sets. That allows Pitta to flex, line up wide and look for good matchups. He is really sure-handed, and he will make the tough catches in traffic."
ESPN also did a top 10 list of running backs in 2016, and neither Ray Rice nor Bernard Pierce made the list. Rice, who will be 29 years old, made the honorable mention list.
Too Much Hoopla over Graham vs. Smith
Seven-year veteran Corey Graham versus former first round draft pick Jimmy Smith.
Who will be the Ravens' starter in 2013?
It doesn't matter, says The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
"It would be a nice storyline, the veteran trying to hold off the youngster. But that’s about all it is," Zrebiec wrote. "The reality is that regardless of who starts, Graham and Smith will be on the field together more often than not."
For proof, Zrebiec points to this Pro Football Focus stat: The Ravens used five defensive backs or more on 837 of 1,498 snaps last season.
The bigger question may be whether Lardarius Webb is ready to start after he had ACL surgery and is still rehabbing.
"That's no sure thing," Zrebiec wrote. "While all the reports have been positive that Webb is doing well in his recovery from knee surgery, he remains a work in progress. Webb still had a slight limp at times during the mandatory minicamp and he was not cleared to be a full participant.
"Webb's status is yet another reason that a perceived training camp competition between Graham and Smith is largely overblown. Both will be needed to play huge roles, both will be on the field more often than not and both could very well be the two starters if Webb isn't ready or the Ravens opt to gradually work him back in the lineup."
High School Names Weight Room After Yanda
Marshal Yanda's No. 77 jersey was retired at Anamosa High School in his home state of Iowa. And the AHS's weight room was officially named the Marshal Yanda Weight Room.
About 400 of Yanda's friends, family and fans gathered for the 45-minute ceremony.
"This may be as close to the Iowa athletic success story as Iowans would write from scratch," wrote Mike Hlas of The Gazette.
"The son of a fourth-generation dairy cow farmer didn't have the grades to play major-college football out of high school. Not giving up on that goal, he enrolled at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City. NIACC doesn't even have football anymore."
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