Reign Check: Should The Ravens Re-Sign Dennis Pitta?Posted on February 13, 2014
After a disappointing 8-8 season, the Ravens head into an offseason of uncertainty with plenty of questions. With that in mind, we're rolling out a new feature here at Purple Reign: Offseason debates. In a series of articles that will carry you through the offseason, writers Gordon McGuinness and Justin Ford will debate both sides of a series of topics ranging from whether or not the Ravens should re-sign a particular player, which players they should target in free agency, and which players they should be looking to draft in May.
We start with a look at tight end Dennis Pitta who was an important part of the Ravens offense before missing most of the 2013 season through injury. He did make it back onto the field late in the year, but didn't look the same player understandable. So, with a new offensive coordinator in place in Gary Kubiak, should the Ravens bring back Pitta?
McGuinness' take - Why they should
You only need to look back to his 2012 season to see why the Ravens need to bring Pitta back. Bringing in 75 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular and post season he was one of Joe Flacco's favorite targets in the red zone. Able to go up and win the ball even when the ball isn't necessarily accurate, he's tough to cover for both linebackers and safeties.
Looking back at his play in the post season shows his importance as, while he gained no more than 55 yards in a single game, he came up with three important touchdowns, and got all three in a different manner. On 2nd-and-15 against the Colts in the Wild Card Round, he caught the ball on a short crossing route before turning up field quickly and beating the Indianapolis defenders to the end zone. Against the Patriots in the Championship Round he beat safety Steve Gregory with an out route from the slot to give the Ravens a lead that they wouldn't surrender and then came his touchdown in the Super Bowl against the 49ers. Lining up as an inline tight end, he originally looked like he was going to run a corner route to the back of the end zone. Turning it into a hitch instead, he was able to create space from the linebacker and bring the ball in for the score.
Making Pitta more valuable, is just how good he is from the slot. In that 2012 season he was fourth amongst tight ends with 451 yards, and tied for first with six touchdowns from the slot, showing that he can do damage from a few different places on the field. He also has sure hands with just eight drops from the 209 passes thrown his way since entering the league. That includes three drops from 31 targets last year as he came back from injury.
Ford's take - Why they shouldn't
Do not let the fear of a lackluster offense in 2013 allow you to make a 6.7 million dollar mistake in 2014.
We all love Dennis Pitta, but I want you to ask yourself - What does Pitta do that is above average? Not above average compared to the other guys on the team, but above average compared to the other guys around the league.
The answer to that question is that he has consistent hands. Outside of that he does not have great size at the position. He isn’t considered a vertical threat and is not a mauling run blocker from the end of the line of scrimmage. In addition to all of that he is not young. Due to serving a two-year mormon mission Pitta will be 29 by the start of training camp next season. Much older than the average NFL player entering his 5th year.
And, consider the offense the Ravens will be implementing in 2014. The Ravens new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will be utilizing the west coast offense, which is very tight end friendly. Look at the tight end Kubiak had in Houston, Owen Daniels. Daniels, a 4th round pick, came in and caught 167 balls and had 10 touchdowns in his first 3 seasons. While Daniels had productive seasons, no one ever confused him for a top 5 player at his position. Even looking past Daniels, players such as Joel Dressen, James Casey, and most recently Garrett Graham have played and produced in Kubiak’s system. So, while Pitta may have been necessary to make the offense go last season, he is not as crucial this upcoming year. This season the offense makes the tight end, not the other way around, which means paying any tight-end, Pitta or otherwise, more than run-of-the-mill TE money would be a mistake.
P.S. - the aforementioned Garrett Graham is a free-agent this offseason, and should come fairly cheap.
The Decision (from Purple Reign Editor-In-Chief Phil Gentile)
Wow this is tough! I agree with new Purple Reign contributor Justin Ford about Dennis Pitta and his skill set. He's good. Not necessarily great. However, if you look at the talent at the tight end position in the NFL right now there are only 5-6 guys I would realistically take over Pitta. Giving him the franchise tag and/or a big multi-year contract won't really be overpaying in my mind. Also, the example Justin gave about Kubiak's offense makes a case for Pitta if you think about it. If he could make guys like Owen Daniels and Joel Dressen productive imagine what the new offensive coordinator will do with a talent like Dennis Pitta. While the Ravens don't need to be spending a ton of money on a tight end but he's Flacco's favorite target and is about to enter the prime of his career with a new coordinator. Keeping him would be the best decision for sure.
Verdict - Re-sign Dennis Pitta four years, $22 million