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Monday, March 19, 2007
Giants' 4-year offer sheet worth about $1.6M for Leach

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Hoping to add a powerful lead blocker to their revamped backfield, the New York Giants signed Houston Texans three-year veteran fullback Vonta Leach to a restricted free agent offer sheet on Monday.

Vonta Leach
Leach

The Texans will have seven days to match the four-year offer sheet, which is worth a total of $8 million and includes $1.6 million in guarantees.

If the Texans match the offer sheet, they will assume the terms of the deal that the Giants negotiated with Leach. If the Texans decline to match the offer sheet, Leach will move on to the Giants.

Because he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2004, and Houston made Leach the lowest qualifying offer for a restricted free agent, a one-year deal for $850,000, the Texans will receive no compensation from the Giants if they don't match.

Leach, 25, is a 250-pounder capable of clearing out linebackers and carving out holes for tailbacks running behind him. He is also an improving pass protector.

In three NFL seasons, Leach has yet to register a single rushing attempt and he has only 11 catches for 80 yards and one touchdown in 34 appearances, including 10 starts. His value, though, isn't in touching the ball as much as it is colliding with would-be tacklers. It is assumed that, if the Giants acquire him, he will replace incumbent Jim Finn.

Few teams carry two fullbacks on their roster and Leach is much stronger and five years younger than Finn, a seven-year veteran.

With the retirement of Tiki Barber at the end of the 2006 season, the Giants will go into 2007 with a new starting tailback, projected to be two-year veteran Brandon Jacobs. The Giants also acquired veteran tailback Reuben Droughns in a trade with Cleveland last week.

Leach entered the league with Green Bay in 2004 as an undrafted free agent. The former East Carolina standout played two seasons with the Packers, then was released last summer and signed by Houston, where he split time with Jameel Cook.

The Texans, who value Leach and covet his toughness, probably will take the full seven days to deliberate over the offer sheet.

So far, three restricted free agents have switched teams already during the signing period. One restricted free agent, wide receiver Wes Welker, was actually traded from Miami to New England. Last week, the Cincinnati Bengals declined to match a four-year offer sheet that defensive tackle Shaun Smith signed with the Cleveland Browns. And the Dallas Cowboys passed on an offer sheet that linebacker Ryan Fowler signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Securing the services of restricted free agents historically has proven a difficult undertaking with the current system. In the 14 previous years of free agency, only 55 restricted free agents changed teams. Four restricted free agents changed teams in 2006.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com