The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens took a haymaker to the gut Saturday when Dennis Pitta was carted off the practice field. NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported that it was in fact a hip fracture, and that Pitta will most likely miss the entire season:
First and foremost, this means that the Ravens will be looking to find another tight end for their depth chart. Billy Bajema was re-signed this summer, but he was used as a blocker and was targeted by Joe Flacco just once last season.
Undrafted rookie Matt Furstenburg turned heads at the NFL combine and displayed great athleticism that could translate to the professional level. He’s had a good offseason so far, but he will have to really stand out for the Ravens to rely on him as their No. 2 tight end.
The more likely outcome is that Baltimore signs a veteran free agent to fill the void.
Visanthe Shiancoe was seated next to general manager Ozzie Newsome on Friday, watching the Ravens practice. It was considered a possibility that Baltimore would sign him to compete for the third tight end spot. With Pitta missing the season, he could now be the favorite to fill in as the second tight end.
There are some other experienced tight ends on the market, like Dallas Clark, Jeremy Shockey, Kevin Boss and fan-favorite Todd Heap. Between the five options, Newsome could definitely sign one of them on a cheap contract, but the bigger question is how effective any of them can actually be.
In addition to looking to the free-agent market for help at tight end, Pitta’s injury means that the Ravens will be more likely to sign a veteran wide receiver.
The front office has hitherto been content to let the group of young receivers battle it out for the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receiver spots, knowing full well that the top three receivers on the team were going to be Pitta, Torrey Smith and Ray Rice regardless of who stepped up in the preseason.
The loss of Pitta means that the No. 2 receiver will have to be a more prominent part of the Ravens offense, so Newsome will be quicker to pull the trigger on signing a free-agent receiver if there are any questions about the current group of receivers vying for playing time.
There isn’t a particularly attractive option right now. Brandon Lloyd seems to be the only receiver worth considering at this point, and the market for him has been stagnant for a long time.
Lloyd is a legitimate deep threat who could work well with Joe Flacco’s cannon of an arm, but Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk reported that the New England Patriots cut ties with him due to his erratic behavior in the locker room and on the practice field.
Most of all, Pitta’s injury opens a door for Ed Dickson to be a focal point of the offense. Dickson was the Ravens’ best tight end in 2011 when he caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns.
He is a great blocker and shows good athleticism. He also has the ability to work the seams and be a big-play threat. He lacks the crisp route-running and hands of Pitta, so he’ll need to work extra hard for the rest of training camp to develop good timing and chemistry with Flacco.
The bottom line is that the injury is a big loss for the Ravens and their Super Bowl aspirations. Pitta was in line for a breakout year, and he was the player who was going to take Anquan Boldin’s role in the offense as Flacco’s safety valve.
It’s going to be a challenge for Flacco to overcome losing his top two receivers from last year. The Ravens offense is weaker without Pitta, and they’ll have to hope their defense has been restocked well enough to carry them through the season.