One tool in general manager Ozzie Newsome’s arsenal to hang on to key players is the franchise tag—but in reality he doesn’t have many options for the tag. In fact, he really has only one decision to make.
Whether or not to tag Dennis Pitta.
For starters, there are only two free agents on the roster who are even worth considering for the franchise tag: Pitta and left tackle Eugene Monroe. Why, you ask? Because of what the franchise tag actually means.
Tagging a player basically means signing that player to a one-year deal with a salary that equals the average of the five highest salaries in the league at that position. With such a large cap hit, the franchise tag is reserved for the best players on your team—players who are some of the best in the game at their respective positions.
The only two players who come close to matching that description are the aforementioned offensive players. To give you an idea of how expensive that tag would be for each player, here’s a table of projected tag salaries depending on what the final salary cap ends up being, courtesy of Joel Corry of CBSSports.com:
|Franchise Tag Projections|
|Position||Franchise Tag Salary ($126.3M Cap)||Franchise Tag Salary ($128M Cap)|
So why wouldn’t the Ravens tag Eugene Monroe? Because it’s just too expensive.
Monroe is a very good left tackle, but he’s not worth the impressive haul of money that a franchised tackle receives.
Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun revealed how the Ravens are pursuing Monroe:
The Ravens want to get Monroe under contract and envision him as a long-term solution at left tackle after trading fourth-round and fifth-round draft picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire him in October. The Ravens are considered unlikely to make Monroe their franchise player because the offensive tackle franchise tag is so expensive at $11 million.
With such a deep draft class of offensive tackles, there’s no need to shell out that kind of money for the tackle. Not when the Ravens will have the opportunity in the first round with the 17th overall pick to draft Zack Martin, Taylor Lewan, Cyrus Kouandjio or Morgan Moses.
And that brings us to the last bullet in the hypothetical franchise tag gun: Dennis Pitta. On the surface, the tag looks like a realistic option for the tight end, especially since the Ravens have used the tag to buy time in their negotiations for players in the past (like Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice).
The tight end tag number is a little pricey for what Pitta brings to the table, but considering that he’s one of the Joe Flacco’s go-to targets who thrives on third down and in the red zone—two areas where the Ravens were downright awful last year—it’s definitely an option.
At least it is if he’s tagged as a tight end.
While the tag is defined by position, it’s really determined by where you play most of your snaps. Tight end Jimmy Graham is expected to file a grievance if the New Orleans Saints tag him as a tight end because most of his snaps came out of the slot and split out wide, not as an in-line tight end.
Pitta is expected to do the same if he gets tagged, and there’s no way that the Ravens are paying anything more than the tight end tag salary for him.
What’s even more fascinating is that we really don’t know how a grievance would be handled. There has been only one grievance in franchise tag history, Terrell Suggs.
When the Ravens tagged him as an outside linebacker, Suggs and his agent claimed that he earned the pricier defensive end tag due to his snap counts that season. A precedent was never set because the Ravens settled the dispute by settling the difference.
That’s not happening with Pitta. No offense, but he’s just not worth it.
There is nothing that is eminently irreplaceable about Dennis Pitta. He’s purely one-dimensional as a tight end and he’s an average athlete. He has above-average hands and route-running abilities, but that’s about it.
Losing Pitta would put the Ravens in a bind, but they’ve shown that they aren’t afraid to walk away when the asking price gets too steep.
Dennis Pitta is the only player the Ravens will consider tagging, and even that is only if he’s tagged as a tight end.
The odds are that we won’t see Ozzie Newsome use the tag this offseason—not unless the situation is incredibly grim.
For more Ravens news and analysis or to catch my weekly Ravens podcast, follow me on Twitter.