In news that we have been trying to digest since last night, it appears rather unlikely that Vonta Leach will be a Houston Texan next year. His own words from his Twitter page say that the team is going in a different direction.
Are we better off without the All-Pro? No. No, we are not. However, there are a number of compelling reasons to not make him the most wealthy fullback in the NFL. Given how easy it is to find most fullbacks (late round picks or undrafted free agents in most cases), particularly ones that are purely blocking specialists like Leach, I think an argument can be crafted that letting Leach go for the green elsewhere is an understandable move, if not a popular one.
What really decides how suave the move is? Where the team goes from here.
Leach will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He was one of the best at his job in 2010, and was barely average in 2009. He had no inkling of Pro Bowl or All-Pro pedigree before last season. He also plays a position where it's not incredibly hard to find a replacement, should the team search for one. What is the difference between an excellent blocking fullback and a good blocking fullback? 10 yards a game at most, maybe?
Arian Foster actually ran better out of one-back sets last year on a yards-per-carry basis, though I bet that would decline a bit as teams started expecting the run more from those sets if the Texans didn't find a quality replacement. Lets assume, for the sake of argument, that the Texans find a late-round pick, free agent, or undrafted free agent that can be an average NFL fullback in the meantime for zero cost. For bonus points, let's assume his name is Z. Pauga...no, too obvious, how about Zac P?
The question then becomes what the Texans do with the money, besides, of course, giving it to an injury-prone player at a position of strength for the sake of sentimentality.
If the difference between Mr. Pauga and Mr. Leach is enough to bring in, say, a starting safety that is safely better than Troy Nolan, or help the Texans reel in a high-quality cornerback, it would probably be a pretty smart move overall. NFL offenses can function fairly well without strong fullbacks. It would likely dent the Texans goal-to-go or third/fourth and short situations, but the Texans are bound to regress from their sterling numbers there last year anyway. Especially considering Leach is no sure thing to be as great as he was last year again.
Look, we all love Leach around here. There's nothing more fun than a fullback that can crack skulls. But this isn't exactly a move that should send fans into a tizzy. It's a hard move to make, and I don't like the message that it sends to the players (do good and we won't reward you, do bad and you're still our head coach three years later) and fans. Still, I can see the logic behind it if I squint hard enough. Fullbacks aren't a position you need a star at to win in the NFL.
Now the only problem is that I have no faith in the Texans to actually use that money wisely.