The Ravens terminated the contracts of veteran fullback Vonta Leach and inside linebacker Jameel McClain Thursday, clearing salary cap space before free agency begins March 11.
The moves will reportedly save $4.95 million in salary cap space.
“Vonta and Jameel are two of our most important players over the last few seasons, helping us to the playoffs and giving the Ravens the Super Bowl win after the 2012 season,” General Manager Ozzie Newsome said.
“There could come a point later on when we would consider bringing back Vonta and Jameel. They are our types of players.”
McClain, 28, has spent his entire six-year career in Baltimore after the Ravens signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He was entering the final year of his contract and reportedly carried a $4.4 million cap hit this season.
“There is so much to like about Jameel the player and the person,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a true leader and his story from rookie free agent to NFL starter is one of the best in the league. You give him so much credit for finding a way to become the player he is. He’s one of those who gets the most out of his ability. He has a lot of football left and, maybe, that could be with the Ravens down the line.”
McClain started 10 games last season after coming back from a career threatening spinal cord injury that he sustained during the 2012 season. McClain finished with 52 tackles and one forced fumble last year. He has been a starting inside linebacker in Baltimore since 2010.
“Jameel is a Ravens’ success story who came to us as a rookie free agent,” Newsome said. “He changed positions from playing on the defensive line and outside to becoming a good inside linebacker and starter. People close to our team understand his commitment to being the best he can be and the leadership he gave on and off the field.”
Leach, 32, is an 11-year veteran who spent the last three seasons in Baltimore. The bruising fullback was a two-time Pro Bowler with the Ravens and considered one of the best lead blockers in the NFL.
“Vonta proved to be one of the best fullbacks in the league, plus he added leadership and toughness to our offense,” Newsome said.
Leach tweeted “thanks for the memories” along with a photo collage of some Ravens moments after the news broke.
Leach’s role in the offense declined last season as the Ravens moved to more of a single-back approach. He played just 19.5 percent of the snaps during the season and was reportedly set to have a $2.3 million hit against the salary cap this season.
Leach is nearing the end of his NFL career, but he said after the season that he sees himself playing one to two more years.
“He’s the big, physical fullback you like to have when you pound the ball and on special teams,” Harbaugh said. “And, who doesn’t like Vonta? He’s fun to be around and his personality helped lift the energy at a lot of practices. People know we like to be physically dominating and, when we did that in recent years, Vonta was a big part of that.”
Leach’s departure opens the door for 2013 fourth-round draft pick Kyle Juszcyk. The former Harvard fullback was used as a special teamer during his rookie season, but the Ravens will likely look to get him more involved in the offense next season.
Juszczyk is a versatile weapon with good hands coming out of the backfield, and Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the season that he expects Juszczyk to be a “huge part of what we do going forward.”
The Ravens could also ultimately decide to bring Leach back like they did last season. The team cut Leach after the 2012 season and allowed him to test free agency before ultimately bringing him back near the start of training camp.
With the decisions to cut Leach and McClain, along with last week’s contract extension of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens have more room to make a move in free agency. General Manager Ozzie Newsome said at the combine that the Ravens will pursue “every avenue” to improve the team.
The room under the cap could also help sign free agents tight end Dennis Pitta and left tackle Eugene Monroe. The Ravens have until 4 p.m. Monday to decide if they want to use the franchise tag on any of their current unrestricted free agents.