The Ravens are less than a week away from needing to decide whether to use the franchise tag on tight end Dennis Pitta, but it appears that the potential conflict over the position at which he’ll be tagged won’t be up to them.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rappoport, when a team sends a letter to the league announcing its intention to name a franchise player, it does not designate that player at a specific position. In Pitta’s case, the league — not the Ravens — would then determine whether he is to be tagged as a tight end or wide receiver.
Much like New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Pitta is expected to file a grievance through the NFL Players Association arguing that he should be tagged as a wide receiver after he lined up in the slot on 79.7 percent of his snaps in 2013. The collective bargaining agreement states that a franchise player is to be tendered at the position “at which [he] participated in the most plays during the prior league year.”
The 2014 salary cap hasn’t been officially set — with new reports surfacing that the cap may climb higher than $130 million — but the current estimated franchise tenders for the tight end and wide receiver positions are $6.89 million and $11.86 million, respectively.
Teams have until Monday at 4 p.m. to elect to name a franchise player.
This clarification serves to benefit the Ravens in two important ways while they continue negotiations to lock up the 28-year-old tight end to a long-term agreement.
First, it would seem to eliminate any argument that a player could be deemed an unrestricted free agent if an arbitrator were to find a team had incorrectly tagged a player and, thus, missed the March 3 deadline to designate him properly. There had been some speculation about Graham — and possibly Pitta — using this argument as a way to still be able to cash in on a monster free-agent contract in 2014, but with teams not being the ones to designate a franchise player’s position, it’s assumed that the franchise tender amount would simply be altered from one figure to another with the tag remaining in place.
Secondly, this process would appear to diminish animosity over a franchise-tag fight with the Ravens having no say over Pitta being tagged as a tight end or a wide receiver. Of course, contract negotiations can create plenty of tension already without the added element of a position squabble that could mean a difference of nearly $5 million in salary.
The Ravens are expected to use the franchise tag on Pitta if they can’t sign him prior to March 3, but coach John Harbaugh wasn’t ready to rule out the possibility of the organization allowing the fifth-year tight end to test the open market. Free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. on March 11.
“I think every scenario is possible here,” Harbaugh told reporters in Indianapolis last week. “The franchise tag is very vague right now, so anything could happen.”
Pitta’s age is something to consider as he’s older than most players entering their fifth season after he took a two-year mission trip during his college days at Brigham Young. And that, coupled with the confusion over the franchise tag, has made these negotiations more complicated than many anticipated.
Of course, the Ravens would prefer to get a deal ironed out sooner rather than later, but no agreement was considered imminent at the conclusion of the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis earlier this week.