With February coming to an end and next month bringing the start of free agency, the Ravens took care of a very important piece of their offseason Friday by agreeing to a long-term contract with tight end Dennis Pitta.
The sides agreed to a five-year deal, which will avoid the possibility of the Ravens using the franchise tag on the fifth-year tight end. Baltimore was expected to place the tag on Pitta by Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline had an agreement not been reached.
The deal is worth a total of $32 million, according to multiple outlets, which would be a reasonable average cost of $6.4 million per year while a number of NFL tight ends average upwards of $7 million per season. Pitta will reportedly receive $16 million in guaranteed money as the contract is worth $21 million over the first three years, according to The Sun.
Pitta is scheduled to travel to Baltimore over the weekend and sign his new contract prior to a press conference on Monday.
“I could not be more excited to remain a Baltimore Raven,” Pitta said in a team statement. “There is no better organization or fan base in sports. To be given the opportunity to continue my career here is incredible. This organization drafted me and has always stood by me – especially during my difficult recovery last season – and for that, I am extremely grateful.”
Pitta was considered one of the two biggest priorities of the offseason as general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office will now turn more attention toward left tackle Eugene Monroe. Though limited to four games last season after suffering a devastating hip injury during training camp, Pitta is considered an instrumental piece of an offense trying to rebound from a season in which it finished 29th in total yards.
His role is only expected to expand under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who frequently emphasized the use of tight ends in his offenses in both Houston and Denver. This comes after Pitta was expected to assume a much larger role last year in the wake of veteran receiver Anquan Boldin being traded to San Francisco, but the hip dislocation suffered in late July changed that outlook.
“Dennis creates a number of mismatch problems for defenses,” Newsome said. “He makes it tough on them, and because of that, he really helps out our wide receivers. Opponents have to always pay attention to where he lines up and where his routes take him. Dennis is also a big target with very good hands, and his presence in the red zone is very important to us.”
Had the Ravens placed the franchise tag on Pitta, the league would have needed to determine at what position he’d be tendered as Pitta lined up in the slot on nearly 80 percent of his snaps last season. He was expected to file a grievance through the union contesting that he should be recognized as a wide receiver ($12.312 million), which would have been more than $5 million more than the franchise tender amount paid to tight ends ($7.035 million).
Unlike many times when a player suffers a significant injury in a contract year, Pitta may have actually improved his value this past season as the Ravens struggled to an 8-8 season and dealt with a plethora of issues that included the standout tight end’s absence. His ability to return for the final month of the season to prove he was once again healthy and productive quelled any concerns that he wouldn’t be the same player in Newsome’s eyes.
A fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, the 28-year-old caught 20 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown in four contests last season and has reined in 122 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns in his four-year career. His best season came in 2012 when he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns before adding 14 receptions for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the Ravens’ postseason run to the Super Bowl XLVII title.
“It was obvious when Dennis was out last year that we really missed him,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We all admire how he fought back from the hip injury and helped us down the stretch. Having Dennis as a part of the Ravens now and in the future is exciting news for us. Dennis has a large catch radius and can snatch the ball in traffic. Not only is he a reliable player, but he is an outstanding person as well. Having a weapon like Dennis makes everyone on our offense better.”