It seems that most casual NFL fans don't pay attention to, nor give the proper amounts of respect to, fullbacks in this league. Said spectators instead shower the affection onto a successful running back or even sometimes the team's offensive line before they give any sort of kudos to their fullback. However, most Texans fans don't appear to be in this boat. Because judging from the fallout around town over the team deciding not to re-sign fan favorite Vonta Leach to a hefty contract this free agency period, you'd think Houston just let Jim Brown walk away in his prime.
I will not contend that I was sad to see Vonta leave Houston. A fan favorite that went undrafted and eventually rose to becoming the best at his position in 2010, there is no doubt that the big guy will be missed. His attitude, combined with his hard-nosed style of play, endeared him to Texans fans, and many held onto hope that the team would find a way to re-sign him in the offseason. I was one of these folks, but as most figured, it just wasn't in the budget after the team spent big to renovate their league-worst secondary. So Vonta did what most in his position would have done; he got paid. A 3 year deal with Baltimore for a price tag of $11 million made him the highest paid fullback in the league, and he deserved it. I could never debate that he got what he earned in 2010. But what I will debate is those who are trashing the Texans front office for not bringing him back.
Let's face it: Fullbacks in the NFL are cheap. Sure, it's difficult to find one that fits your scheme as perfectly as Vonta fit here. But at that price tag, there were just too many other holes this team needed to fill, and they made the right decision. Especially when they went out and found a fullback, that many people are calling a "Vonta Clone," for about a third of the price Leach got on the market. I'll tell you more about the Texans' newest fullback and why I think the offense won't miss a beat with him stepping into Vonta's large shoes in 2011.
Finally putting an end to one of the worst kept secrets in all of football the past couple of days, the Texans announced the signing of former Cleveland Browns fullback Lawrence Vickers today. Vickers got a two year deal worth just $3 million. Now before you start saying "Aww, the Browns? How good could this guy be?", I will let one of our friends from Dawgs by Nature here on SB Nation tell you:
With Vickers at FB, Jamal Lewis twice ran for 1000, Jerome Harrison ran for 800+ in a handful of starts, and Peyton Hillis ran for 1000. Prior to Vickers we got one 1000 yard season from Reuben Droughns, and then you have to go all the way back to 1985 to find another thousand yard Browns rusher (Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner that year).
We’ve had four 1000 yard rushers in the 25 years since Mack and Byner both eclipsed the mark, and three of them have had Vickers as a lead blocker
Sounds like Vickers is quite the underrated fullback, huh? My thanks to golanbatrac from Dawgs by Nature for the quote. I don't think that the fact Vickers helped Peyton Hillis get onto the front cover of Madden should be taken lightly. Also, I always say you can tell how good a player really is by reading or listening to what fans of the team they just left are saying. The majority of Browns fans are upset about this, so it bodes well for us. I mean that in no disrespect to any Browns fans out there. Not in the least. I mean it isn't like when Dunta Robinson left here for Atlanta and we all said "good riddance," while the national media was still calling him a shutdown corner. You get the point. I'll take the opinion of guys who watch these players every single game, not just a highlight here or there.
I like this addition because I don't think the offense is going to be altered at all when plugging Lawrence in for Vonta. At 6' tall and 255 pounds, he has a similar build and playing style as Leach. One of his main cons is that he isn't the best pass catcher. That means little in this offensive set. I don't recall Vonta catching a ton of passes out of the backfield last year.
Not all of the staff is in agreement on the move since it likely blocked James Casey from being the starting fullback, and that may or may not be the proper decision. I think Casey being back at TE and not changing the offense at all is a positive in both ways. Perhaps Casey still gets some time in different sets and formations; he did gain a lot of bulk since last season, so it couldn't hurt.
With the news that the Texans are $8.5 million over the cap, this move over bringing back Vonta makes even more sense for financial reasons. Everyone keeps saying we could have restructured some deals to find money for Leach, but it just isn't worth it for that price at that position. It sucks to lose the big fella, but when you're players in free agency, you don't get to sign everyone that you want. Just be thankful that we aren't the ones who have to make those tough choices. Look, I would never try to discredit anything that Vonta did in 2010. I'm simply stating that what he did wasn't irreplaceable, and I think the new guy can have similar production at a much more cap friendly contract.