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Why Dennis Pitta Poses a Serious Dilemma for the Baltimore Ravens

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Chris TrapassoAnalyst IFebruary 9, 2014

What in the world are the Baltimore Ravens going to do with tight end Dennis Pitta

On paper, it's simple. Re-sign him to a multi-year deal and be done with it. 

But as we know, in the NFL, contract negotiations don't always proceed smoothly.  

After a 61-catch, 669-yard and seven-touchdown regular season which preceded a 14-catch, 163-yard, three-score playoff run that culminated with a Super Bowl victory, Pitta will likely be after a lucrative, long-term contractand deservedly so.

Oh wait, that was his 2012 campaign with the Ravens. 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Dennis Pitta #88 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter against Donte Whitner #31 of the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Fe
Harry How/Getty Images

Therein lies a potential conundrum regarding Pitta's forthcoming contract talks with Baltimore and marvelous general manager Ozzie Newsome. 

The former fourth-round pick out of BYU missed the first 12 games of the 2013 season with a dislocated and fractured right hip. He returned for the team's final four outings and reeled in 20 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown on 33 targets from quarterback Joe Flacco. 

Though Pitta made a full recovery from the hip injury, the Ravens could view his shortened season as either a red flag for the future in which they'd be investing or an opportunity to leverage a less expensive deal for the soon-to-be 29-year-old.

Neither idea would go over particularly well with the Pitta camp.

However, the Ravens' brass has been exceptionally candid about its future plans for the tight end, which doesn't exactly give it power in contract negotiations.

Gary Kubiak says he has a high opinion of Dennis Pitta, expects him to be a big part of offense this year

— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) January 27, 2014

Aaron Wilson also included another Kubiak quote in a recent Baltimore Sun column:

I remember studying Dennis, and I’m very impressed with him as a player. I know he went through a tough year this year with getting injured, but that position has always been a big part of our offense. I’m sure it won’t be any different.

Wilson later added these statistical tidbits from Kubiak's time as the head coach in Houston: 

Two seasons ago, Texans tight ends and H-backs combined for 124 receptions for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns. That year, the Texans' Owen Daniels caught 62 passes for 716 yards and a career-high six touchdowns.

In 2011, Daniels, Joel Dreessen, James Casey and Garrett Graham combined for 101 catches for 1,314 yards and 10 touchdowns. And Daniels caught 70 passes for 862 yards in 2008, the first of his two Pro Bowl selections.

Basically, Pitta is fully aware of his tremendous value to the Ravens, although he wasn't able to light up the stat sheet in his contract year due to injury. 

He and his agent will keep that in mind when they pull up chairs to the negotiating table. 

Also, Baltimore's other tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark, are also free agents this offseason—more leverage for Pitta. 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Dennis Pitta #88 of the Baltimore Ravens catches a touchdown pass in front of  Donte Whitner #31 of the San Francisco 49ers and teammate  Patrick Willis in the second quarter during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Sup
Al Bello/Getty Images

Then again, the Ravens aren't loaded with cap room to spend this offseason and the contracts of Arthur Jones and Daryl Smith have expired as well.

According to Spotrac, Baltimore is currently estimated to be just $11.5 million—including projected rollover cap—under a a salary cap that Pro Football Talk reports is expected to be $126 million.

That figure doesn't necessarily mean Newsome and Co. don't have the funds to sign Pitta to a multi-year deal, it just could make arranging a contract more difficult. Mainly, the limited cap space means there might need to be some finagling in regard to the way the deal would have to be structured. 

Based on Pitta's emergence as one of Flacco's favorite targets in 2012 and the words of Kubiak, the Ravens view the tight end as a top free-agent priority. 

Gail Burton/Associated Press

For Baltimore's sake, it'll especially want to come to terms on a long-term contract before he hits free agency because the franchise tag route could potentially prove to be much more expensive than initially believed. 

The franchise tag value for tight ends in 2014 should be around $6.7 million. However, Pitta's agent could theoretically fight for his client to be considered a wide receiver, a position that carries a franchise tag number of $11.53 million.

David Kohl/Associated Press

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Pitta ran routes from the slot on 79.7 percent of his snaps in four games in 2013.

According to Wilson, "Pitta played 111 snaps in the slot, six snaps split out wide, 40 snaps as a traditional tight end and six in the backfiel."

"Under the NFL collective bargaining agreement, rules governing franchise tags states they will apply to the position in which the player participated in the most plays," he writes.

The Ravens and Pitta can begin negotiating on February 17, and the team has until March 3 to name him its franchise player. 
If a multi-year contract isn't agreed upon by March 11, Pitta will hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. 

It's difficult to doubt Newsome in a time like this, but there's a chance Baltimore's front office and Pitta's camp won't see eye to eye from a financial standpoint.

Boy, that franchise tag dilemma could get messy.

 

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