Before Vonta Leach signed with the Baltimore Ravens, I heard many fans argue that Houston Texans GM Rick Smith was being cheap and would regret not giving in to Vonta's request to become the highest paid fullback in the league. In essence, they argued the Texans should keep Leach at all costs. I loved watching Vonta block last year, and was sorry to see him go; Leach may very well be the best blocking fullback in the league. Even so, I think the Texans made the right decision. Here are three reasons why:
Leach's Impact Not as Great as Fans ThinkSome fans argued that the Texans' running game will be much less effective without Leach. I don't doubt that there will be at least one occasion this year when a play will fail because of the lack of one of Vonta's devastating blocks. However, at least 11 guys contributed to the success of the running game last year; only one of them is missing. We still have the other 10 guys. And, importantly, we still have the same play book and blocking schemes.
You don't necessarily need a great fullback to have a great running game. (Quick, name the fullback who blocked for Terrell Davis.) And, remember, much of the Texans' rushing yardage last year was accumulated while Vonta was not even on the field -- e.g. while running from a one back set. In short, important as it was, I think the fans are overstating the impact that Leach had on the running game.
Leach Would Not Have Been the Best Use of $11 MillionLike readers of this blog, football teams are investors. Successful teams like the New England Patriots are careful not to overpay for their assets. They assess a player's value to the team and refuse to pay more. For the most part, the Texans appear to at least try to do the same. Even if Leach is in fact the best fullback in the league, there is a limit to what he is worth. And, even if he is worth the $11 million over 3 years to the Ravens, it doesn't follow that he's worth that to the Texans.
If the Texans had $11 million to spend, would that money have the greatest impact if spent to improve the offense, or the defense? Especially, consider the impact at the margin. On offense, consider a) How much better is Leach than our next best option at FB? and b) How much cheaper is that next best option than $11 million. Now look on the defensive side of the ball. If you used the freed up money to improve the worst position on defense, how much improvement could you make? If you think about it that way, I think you'll agree that the Texans were right in deciding there were better ways to spend $11 milllion.
There is More to Playing Fullback Than BlockingFinally, even if Leach is in fact the most devastating blocker in the league, it doesn't follow that replacing him makes the team worse. Fullbacks do more than block; James Casey is a much better receiver, and possibly a better runner as well. What matters is the fullback's total impact on the offense.
Having Casey at FB gives the Texans more options. Starting from a normal pro set, in the game last weekend against the New Orleans Saints, Casey sometimes stayed at FB, and sometime went in motion ending at tight end or at wide receiver. Before the end of the season, I expect to see Casey even throw a pass (had he stayed at Rice, he was slated to be the starting QB).
This flexibility makes the offense less predictable when Casey is at fullback, and complicates some situational substitutions on defense. Advantage offense. So, it's at least conceivable that the Texans' offense will actually be even more dangerous without Leach than with. At worst, the receiving threat at least partially offsets any reduction in blocking effectiveness.
Bottom LineLeach is a very good fullback, and I'm sorry we lost him. However, the salary cap and limits on roster size mean you can't keep every player. You have to make decisions. On balance, I think the Texans will be a better team without Leach and his $11 million contract than they would be with.
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