Baltimore Ravens: Dennis Pitta

The Baltimore Ravens blog won't be giving out a report card until the regular season opener, but our friends at Pro Football Focus are handing out grades for the Ravens' second preseason game at Dallas ...

HIGHEST-GRADED RAVENS

Pernell McPhee (4.8): He led the Ravens with three quarterback hurries and constantly harassed backup quarterback Brandon Weeden. No other Ravens player had more than one hurry.

Elvis Dumervil (2.8): The veteran outside linebacker was one of only three Ravens to have a positive rating in pass rush (McPhee and linebacker Daryl Smith were the others). Dumervil finished with one quarterback hit and one hurry.

Brynden Trawick (2.2): He showed his range by racing over to pick off a pass along the sideline and nearly had a second interception. But the backup safety missed a tackle that led to a touchdown.

Josh Bynes (1.6): The surprising part is Bynes finished as the best coverage linebacker. He is known for his run-stopping skills.

Marshal Yanda (1.6): The three-time Pro Bowl guard was the highest-graded pass blocker in Dallas. No hurries or hits allowed on 21 pass plays.

Dominique Franks (1.6): Most remember Franks for not being able to elevate to break up the touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. The veteran cornerback did a solid job the rest of the way in keeping up with receivers, although that was mostly against the Cowboys' second team.

LOWEST-GRADED RAVENS

Parker Graham (-3.7): The third-string offensive tackle was the lowest graded run blocker, and he also allowed a sack.

Eugene Monroe (-3.0): The starting left tackle allowed a team-high two quarterback hurries and was flagged for illegal use of hands.

C.J. Mosley (-2.8): After an impressive preseason opener, Mosley was the lowest-graded defensive player for the Ravens. The rookie inside linebacker missed a couple of tackles, had trouble getting off blocks and didn't hold up well in coverage.

Dennis Pitta (-2.1): Known for his pass-catching ability, Pitta was one of two Ravens who had a negative rating in run blocking (Graham was the other).

Nicholas DeMarco (-2.0): The reserve outside linebacker was the lowest graded run defender.

Ravens Camp Report: Day 14

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
4:15
PM ET
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:
  • The play of the day came from an unlikely source. Backup linebacker John Simon made a leaping one-handed interception toward the end of practice. Simon, a 2013 fourth-round pick, is known for his toughness but he often struggles to make plays in space.
  • Biggest rule for all rookies: Don't tick off the owner. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro almost did that Monday, when his parents parked in owner Steve Bisciotti's parking spot (which stands out because his initials "SB" are on it). Security had to get Campanaro to point out his parents in the crowd so the vehicle could be removed before Bisciotti arrived for practice.
  • With both backup defensive ends out for the season, DeAngelo Tyson took over that spot and made a nice play in his new role. Tyson leapt up and authoritatively knocked down a pass with both hands.
  • It was surprising to see wide receiver Torrey Smith fielding punts. Smith brings explosive speed and sure hands to that role. But it's a risk to expose the team's best deep threat to getting injured on special teams. Smith also has virtually no experience in covering punts. He returned one punt in college and has never fielded a punt in three NFL seasons.
  • Rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks is getting a lot of reps in practice. He worked at nickel back with the first-team defense and moved back to free safety with the second team.
  • The Ravens and 49ers ended their three days of joint practices with a non-contact workout. This came after two days of padded practices for the teams.
  • Schedule: The Ravens are off Tuesday. They hold practices Wednesday and Thursday before wrapping up training camp Friday.
  • Injury wire: Tight end Dennis Pitta missed his second straight practice with what coach John Harbaugh described as a "little ankle sprain." Pitta did individual drills for about 30 minutes before being told to sit out the rest of practice. ... Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) is scheduled to have season-ending surgery by the end of the week. ... Cornerback Asa Jackson (ankle) was sidelined for his second straight practice. ... Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) missed his 12th straight practice. He last practiced July 25. ... Guard Will Rackley (head), guard Ryan Jensen (ankle) and safety Brynden Trawick (back) also didn't practice. ... Nose tackle Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list. ... Defensive end Brent Urban (torn ACL) is out for the season.
The one-year anniversary of tight end Dennis Pitta dislocating his hip passed over the weekend, and it went unnoticed by the Baltimore Ravens.

"I didn’t even think about that. Someone had to remind me of that, which I really didn’t need that reminder," coach John Harbaugh said. "That was unnecessary because let’s just look forward."

Pitta
To understand the type of impact Pitta will have this season, you have to look at how the Ravens fared without him last season. The best way to measure the loss of Pitta is this: The Ravens ranked 31st in red zone scoring percentage and 20th on third-down conversion percentage with Pitta out for most of 2013.

A healthy Pitta should lead to more scoring and more extended drives. While you also can't dismiss the loss of wide receiver Anquan Boldin (who was traded before last season) and the effect of that on the offense, Pitta continually came up big for Joe Flacco and the Ravens inside the 20-yard line and on third downs.

Over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Pitta scored 10 touchdowns in the red zone. No other Ravens player had more than seven during that span.

During those two same seasons, Pitta caught 36 passes on third downs, which tied Ray Rice for the team lead. Only three tight ends -- Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez -- had more third-down receptions than Pitta over that span.

Pitta did play in 2013, returning for the final four games. But he didn't have the same explosion or impact because he wasn't fully recovered.

That's not the case for 2014.

"I’m out here not thinking about it," Pitta said. "It’s not giving me an issue at all; I feel 100 percent. I’m encouraged with where I’m at.”

While Pitta isn't thinking about the injury on the field, he is still "highly motivated" by it heading into this season.

"Not playing very much at all last season, you just have to kind of watch and wish you were out there, watch other people do well and wish you could be out there showcasing your abilities," he said. "So, I’m excited to have that chance this year and certainly motivated to do that.”
ESPN.com polled 18 Baltimore media members for their top 20 players on the 2014 Baltimore Ravens roster. The countdown will run through the middle of July, just before the start of training camp. You can click here for an introduction on how the blog put together the rankings.

Let's continue the countdown ...

No. 9: DENNIS PITTA

Pitta
Position: Tight end

Total points: 212. First-place votes: None.

Highest ranking: No. 4. Lowest ranking: Not ranked.

What you need to know: Pitta has become one of Joe Flacco's most trusted targets. In 2012, he set career-highs in catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdowns (seven). During the Ravens' Super Bowl run that season, Pitta had touchdowns in three of the team's four playoff games. Pitta played only four games last season after dislocating his hip, but he said he was 100 percent healthy during this year's offseason workouts.

Where Dennis Pitta should be ranked: I had Pitta ranked slightly higher at No. 6. He elevated his game during the 2012 playoffs when he continually made big catches. But his value took a bigger jump last season when you saw how the Ravens struggled on third downs and in the red zone without Pitta.

File this away: Flacco targeted Pitta on 26.4 percent of the routes he ran in 2012 and 2013. That ranks third among tight ends behind Rob Gronkowski (29.2 percent) and Jimmy Graham (28.7 percent).

What the Ravens are saying about Dennis Pitta: “Dennis creates a number of mismatch problems for defenses. 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.” -- general manager Ozzie Newsome

Here is the panel of voters: Morgan Adsit (WBFF-TV), Clifton Brown (Comcast SportsNet Baltimore), Jerry Coleman (105.7 The Fan), Bruce Cunnningham (WBFF-TV), Steve Davis (105.7 The Fan), John Eisenberg (Baltimore Ravens website), Pete Gilbert (WBAL-TV), David Ginsburg (Associated Press), Brent Harris (Comcast SportsNet Baltimore), Brett Hollander (WBAL Radio), Luke Jones (WNST Radio), Joe Platania (the Press Box), Gerry Sandusky (WBAL-TV), Mark Viviano (WJZ-TV), Aaron Wilson (Baltimore Sun), Matt Zenitz (Carroll County Times), Jeff Zrebiec (Baltimore Sun) and Jamison Hensley (ESPN.com).

Recapping the Ravens' countdown so far:

No. 10: Justin Tucker
No. 11: Daryl Smith
No. 12: Steve Smith
No. 13: Ray Rice
No. 14: Eugene Monroe
No. 15: Jacoby Jones
No. 16: Kelechi Osemele
No. 17: Matt Elam
No. 18: Marlon Brown
No. 19: Owen Daniels
No. 20: C.J. Mosley
The Baltimore Ravens chat covered such topics as the need at cornerback, the impact of Dennis Pitta and the candidates to back up Jacoby Jones at returner. You can click here for a full transcript. Here are some highlights:

D'Juan (Pennsylvania): Any word on picking up a veteran CB? Asante Samuel maybe?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Don't see the Ravens picking up a cornerback until the final major cutdown. The available corners, like Samuel, are either aging or coming off injury. I expect the Ravens to stick with the group they have and evaluate them. Then, if there is still a hole, they can sign someone let go after the final preseason game.

PJ (Midlo): Hi Jamison, I hope your summer is going well. Do you see Ravens using tight end Dennis Pitta more and running more? More importantly, can the Ravens really be successful running with their OL and RBs they have?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I do see Dennis Pitta making a big impact. It's no secret that Gary Kubiak's offense is very tight-end friendly. I believe the Ravens' leader in catches this season will either be Pitta or Steve Smith. As far as running the ball, the Ravens are quietly optimistic about their offensive line. Coach John Harbaugh loves the left side of Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. Jeremy Zuttah is an upgrade at center. There will be more running lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce this year. It all starts up front.

Dio Rules (Baltimore): With the most talented WR corps in years, do you still see the Ravens running a 2 TE offensive set for most of the 1st and 2nd down situations this year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I do because that's the history of Gary Kubiak's offense. For that reason, I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens carried four tight ends this year. At this point, Owen Daniels (as a No. 2 TE) is more proven that Marlon Brown or Jacoby Jones (the No. 3 WRs).

Mike (Maryland): Do you predict Joe Flacco bouncing back this upcoming season and quieting his critics?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Flacco will look much better if the Ravens can protect him and run the ball. A lot of Flacco's success has come off play-action. But the Ravens couldn't sell that because they failed to establish a ground game. Based on his history, he should finish with 24-25 TDs and around 10 INTs.

Ryan (Boston): With all this talk of Ryan Jensen switching to offensive tackle, does that mean that James Hurst is struggling? Or could the Ravens possibly keep Wagner, Jensen and Hurst on the 53-man roster? Thanks!

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): The reason the Ravens moved Jensen to tackle is to give him a better opportunity to get on the field. He's not going to beat out either guard, Marshal Yanda or Kelechi Osemele. Moving Jensen to tackle doesn't hurt Hurst's chances. But if the Ravens view Jensen as the top backup option at tackle and guard, Hurst could be battling someone like A.Q. Shipley for that final roster spot on the line.

Mary (Colorado): Who do you see as an alternative for Jacoby Jones as a return guy this year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): The Ravens had Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson and Asa Jackson returning kicks during offseason workouts.

Remember to follow me on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news and insights on the Ravens.
The Baltimore Ravens have traded back in the first round in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Could they do it again in 2014?

The Ravens will likely have the opportunity to do so. In the past, teams have wanted to trade up in the draft because of quarterbacks. This year, teams will be looking to move up to the Ravens' No. 17 spot for a wide receiver, especially if LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. is sitting there.

The Philadelphia Eagles (No. 22), New Orleans Saints (No. 27) and San Francisco 49ers (No. 30) are potential trade partners with the Ravens. What could the Ravens expect to get in return? The Eagles would need to give up a third-round pick to move up five spots, and the Saints and 49ers may need to hand over second-rounders.

Still, is trading back worth it for the Ravens? Let's look at the three previous times they moved back in the first round:

2008 DRAFT

The Ravens dropped from No. 8 to No. 26 and received two third-round picks (Nos. 71 and 89) and a fourth-round one (No. 125) from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens needed to trade one of those third-round picks (No. 89) to move back up to No. 18 to make sure they got quarterback Joe Flacco.

The net result of moving back was linebacker Tavares Gooden (No. 71 pick overall) and cornerback Fabian Washington (acquired for the No. 125 pick from the Oakland Raiders). Gooden started 12 games in three injury-filled seasons with the Ravens, and Washington started three seasons before being benched.

2010 DRAFT

The Ravens moved out of the first round, going from No. 25 overall to No. 43. In return, the Ravens got a third-round pick (No. 70) and a fourth-round one (No. 114) from the Denver Broncos.

Those extra picks became tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, both of whom were fixtures in the offense for the past three seasons. While Dickson is considered a disappointment, Pitta has become one of Flacco's go-to receivers.

But the top picks didn't work out for the Ravens or the Broncos. Denver traded up to get quarterback Tim Tebow, and the Ravens selected linebacker Sergio Kindle in the second round. Kindle was the worst top pick in Ravens' history.

Still, the Ravens likely wouldn't have fared much better if they stayed in the first round. The Ravens were eyeing pass rusher Jerry Hughes, who struggled his first three seasons before recording 10 sacks last season.

2012 DRAFT

Like the Ravens did in 2010, they moved out of the first round. This time, the Ravens fell just six spots from No. 29 to No. 35 and received a fourth-round pick (No. 98) in return.

The Ravens were still able to get linebacker Courtney Upshaw, their possible selection in the first round, even though they dropped into the second round. That fourth-round pick became center Gino Gradkowski, who started last season but is expected to be a backup this year.
All week, the Baltimore Ravens blog will take a look at what the team can learn from each of its previous five drafts:

The Baltimore Ravens made the wrong decision on medical and character risks in 2010.

This was the draft when the Ravens didn't have tight end Rob Gronkowski on their draft board because of health concerns but made pass-rusher Sergio Kindle their top pick despite numerous red flags.

Like many teams, the Ravens were worried about Gronkowski's long-term health after repeated back issues. Drafted one spot ahead of Kindle, Gronkowski set NFL records for most touchdowns in a season by a tight end (18 in 2011) and most consecutive seasons with at least 10 touchdowns by a tight end (three). Injuries have caught up with Gronkowski but not until he produced two All-Pro seasons.

The Ravens traded out of the first round because the Denver Broncos wanted to to take quarterback Tim Tebow at No. 25, and they chose Kindle at No. 43 despite reports that he had four procedures on his right knee and two car accidents (including a DWI charge). When questioned repeatedly about Kindle's character on draft day, general manager Ozzie Newsome sounded defensive when he said, "I'll tell you what, he's a pretty good player on tape."

Kindle's career was cut short by an accident that occurred three months after the Ravens drafted him. He was ruled out of training camp before he even reported there because he fractured his skull after falling down two flights of stairs. His troubles continued in December 2010, when he was arrested for driving under the influence.

Kindle played two games in 2011 and one in 2012, recording a grand total of one tackle. The Ravens put Kindle on the practice squad in November 2012 and was released him two months later. He tried out for the New York Giants and Chicago Bears last year, but he wasn't signed.

Here's how the Ravens' 2010 draft graded out five years later (based on production and weighted with where they were drafted):
  • Sergio Kindle, LB (second round): F. He'll be remembered as the worst top pick of any Ravens draft.
  • Terrence Cody, NT (second round): C. Cody was a full-time starter for one season. He is a rotational player who is fighting for a roster spot this year.
  • Ed Dickson, TE (third round): C-plus. Dickson looked like he was on his way to being an impact player in 2011, when he caught 54 passes and five touchdowns. Then, drops and lack of confidence led to 46 catches and one touchdown in his last two seasons with the Ravens.
  • Dennis Pitta, TE (fourth round): A-minus. He has become Joe Flacco's security blanket on third downs and in the red zone. His production has fallen short of being Pro Bowl caliber.
  • David Reed, WR (fifth round): C-minus. He showed flashes of being a playmaker as a kickoff returner. Fumbles and lack of production as a receiver (five catches in three seasons) sealed his fate.
  • Arthur Jones, DT (fifth round): A-minus. Jones got better each season and made big plays for the Ravens during their Super Bowl run. He was the Ravens' best defensive lineman last season and priced himself out of the Ravens' range in free agency.
  • Ramon Harewood, OT (sixth round): D. His first two seasons ended on injured reserve. Harewood started the first five games of 2012 at left guard before being replaced by Bobbie Williams.
Cleveland Browns fans complained the past few years as the team sat idly by while free agency raged. The Browns fiddled while free agents burned holes in owners’ pockets.

Or something like that.

Since the 2014 version of free agency began, the Browns have spent $55.8 million in guaranteed money.

That’s the highest total in the AFC North, and following the matching of Jacksonville’s offer to Alex Mack, ranks third in the league in guaranteed money spent since March 11.

Which means the Browns rank third to the Bucs and Broncos in guaranteed money, with most of it going to Mack ($18 million reported, though the number has not been confirmed), linebacker Karlos Dansby ($12 million) and safety Donte Whitner ($13 million). The Browns started free agency with a glut of cap space, and they’ve not been shy about using it.

And they’ve spend more than $50 million in guaranteed contracts without even addressing the quarterback position.

Second in the division in spending are the Baltimore Ravens at $36.3 million, though their total does not include re-signing Dennis Pitta just before free agency began. That signing brings the Ravens' guaranteed money total to $52.3 million -- still short of the Browns.

Most of Baltimore’s money went to Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe ($19 million).

Take away those two re-signings and Baltimore’s guaranteed total of $18 million is more like a team that feels good about itself.

Same for the Bengals, a team that has made the playoffs three years in a row and feels it’s close to something good. Cincinnati has spent just $7.3 million in guaranteed money, the fourth lowest total in the league.

Pittsburgh? The Steelers never go overboard in free-agent spending and this year is no different. Their total of $8.7 million is just ahead of Cincinnati.
The Baltimore Ravens signed wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, along with re-signing offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta.

The Las Vegas oddsmakers are not impressed. The Ravens' odds to win the Super Bowl stand at 30-to-1 Insider, which was their same odds on Feb. 2.

For the most part, there wasn't much movement for any team. The biggest change was the St. Louis Rams falling to 75-to-1 after having 40-to-1 odds two months ago.

There are 11 teams who have better odds than the Ravens: the Seattle Seahawks (4-to-1), Denver Broncos (5-to-1), San Francisco 49ers (6-to-1), New England Patriots (8-to-1), Green Bay Packers (12-to-1), New Orleans Saints (20-to-1), Cincinnati Bengals (20-to-1), Carolina Panthers (25-to-1), Indianapolis Colts (25-to-1), Philadelphia Eagles (25-to-1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (25-to-1).
After the Baltimore Ravens announced the signing of tight end Owen Daniels, coach John Harbaugh said, "You guys know football. You can see where this is going.”

The direction of the Ravens' offense is two-tight end formations. It's been a favorite formation of new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak during his years with the Houston Texans, and it falls in line with the Ravens' philosophy. Harbaugh has always said the best 11 players will be on the field, and that translates to a lot of significant playing time for Daniels and Dennis Pitta.

Lining up two tight ends will be a drastic change for the Ravens. Last season, no team ran fewer plays with multiple tight ends than the Ravens (155 snaps), the result of not having Pitta for 12 games. Under Kubiak, no team ran more plays with multiple tight ends over the past three seasons than the Texans (an average of 625 snaps), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Daniels, who played eight seasons under Kubiak in Houston, predicts the Ravens will have plenty of two-tight end sets in the playbook.

"We've got the guys here to do it," Daniels said. "That always makes things tough on defenses. When you run the ball well, that makes the defenses make decisions on personnel, and you kind of go off that. I would say look for more of that in the future.”

For years, the Ravens were the traditional I-formation, power running team. Their offense revolved around Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice following a fullback and gashing defenses.

The Ravens' game plan changed last year when they were unable to run the ball. The team phased out fullback Vonta Leach and decided to spread out defenses with three wide receivers.

The Ravens' base offense is expected to evolve again after the Ravens re-signed Pitta and added Daniels. The team can go with two tight ends, wide receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith and Rice at the skill positions.

The Ravens can be versatile with this personnel grouping. They can split out either Pitta or Daniels (or both) to have a four-wide look because both tight ends are such strong pass-catchers. Or they can line Pitta and Daniels next to the offensive tackles for a more run-heavy formation, which could also set up play-action passes.

The key to running the ball out of a two-tight end formation will be the effectiveness of Pitta and Daniels as blockers. Opening holes for the run game isn't the strength of Pitta and Daniels, although Daniels is considered a functional blocker.

Asked whether the Ravens are still looking for a blocking tight end, Harbaugh looked at Daniels and said they'll take that as an insult.

"You can’t just be one-dimensional. If you’re one-dimensional, and you can’t block, you’ll probably be out there, and you’re basically a wide receiver," Harbaugh said. "That conversation has been had. If you’re in there, and you’re a tight end, and you can’t run a route, you’re basically an offensive tackle. Everybody knows it. The ability to do both well, or at least do one thing great and the other thing adequately, you have to have that."

Harbaugh added, "Owen Daniels is a good blocker. Put on the tape, and you’re going to see a very good blocker. He understands the blocking scheme. So, I wouldn’t take that away from him. Hey, if we end up with some punishing, dominating, end-of-the-line-of-scrimmage blocker, you’ll see me smiling. But our two guys right now block really well, too.”
ESPN.com's Mike Sando gave the Baltimore Ravens a B-minus Insider so far in free agency, and that's a fair grade.

"The Ravens re-signed their key free agents and made the right choice at tackle in letting Michael Oher test the market," Sando wrote. "This is looking like a low-key offseason for Baltimore."

The Ravens did what they had to do in terms of retaining their key free agents such as offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta, inside linebacker Daryl Smith and returner Jacoby Jones. They brought in a veteran wide receiver in Steve Smith, who can make an impact in clutch situations.

The one player the Ravens hated to lose was nickelback Corey Graham, but it would have been a mistake for Baltimore to match a contract that averages $4 million per season. The Ravens would've liked to upgrade more at center if there was a better free-agent market for that position. That forced them to trade for Jeremy Zuttah, who is better than Gino Gradkowski and is a good fit in the Ravens' zone-blocking scheme.

The Ravens still have question marks at free safety and right tackle. If the Ravens had to play today, they would go with Darian Stewart at free safety and Rick Wagner at right tackle. Stewart isn't a rangy defensive back, and Wagner doesn't have much experience. Both would fill a void, but they're not necessarily the solutions for those positions.

How did the rest of the AFC North teams grade out? The Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns all got a grade of C.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta made a compelling argument Wednesday on why the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham shouldn't be penalized for being given the franchise tag for a tight end rather than a wide receiver.

"He gets labeled as a tight end, and for whatever reason, that somehow decreases his value," Pitta said after signing his five-year, $32 million contract. "I don’t understand that part of it. I think he’s been a top producer in this league, certainly on his team, [and] led his team in catches, yards, touchdowns. Why all of a sudden, because he’s labeled as a tight end, does that devalue his stock?"

Pitta
Even though you would expect a tight end to support one of his peers, it's strange that Pitta spoke out so strongly about this. Pitta's new contract averages $6.4 million per season, which is in line with the franchise tag for a tight end ($7 million) and not a wide receiver ($12.3 million). The deal he signed suggests Pitta agrees with the current value of tight ends.

Pitta ended up with $16 million guaranteed, which is a good chunk of money for a tight end, but it's only $4 million more than what he would've earned in one season if he successfully won a grievance to be tagged as a receiver. Perhaps this is a case where Pitta believes tight ends should get paid more like receivers but he wasn't confident others would feel the same way.

"More power to [Graham], I think it’s something that he should challenge because it's not right that he can catch more touchdowns and more yards than maybe someone who is classified as a wide receiver, yet because he has that tight end label, now all of a sudden his value is cut in half," Pitta said.

Here are some other takeaways from Pitta's news conference:
  • Pitta feels fortunate to sign this type of a deal only seven months after having emergency surgery on his hip. "There were a few weeks after my surgery when I didn't know if I would play football again, which is a tough pill to swallow," Pitta said. "To be able to sit here now, to have an opportunity to be on the field and be with this team for a few more years to come, it's a blessing."
  • There will be no Joe Flacco-like celebration for Pitta after signing his deal. “I probably won't go to McDonald's after this," said Pitta, alluding to the fact that Flacco stopped for some McNuggets after reaching his $120.6 million deal a year ago before adding, "No, I didn't get Joe Flacco money, so he will still be paying for dinners."
  • Pitta acknowledged he wasn't at full strength when he returned in December. "I didn't have any pain and I felt good playing, but kind of that quickness and that explosion wasn't all the way back, which was expected," Pitta said. "Typically, you don’t regain that in four months after surgery, and so that’s something that I continue to work on, and I've been training and trying to get that to 100 percent, which I'm close.”
  • There are plans for Flacco to meet with the receivers and tight ends before the team officially begins its offseason program. "I know that's something Joe wants to get done," Pitta said. "He wants to be able to meet with us and kind of get on the same page and go over some of the new things that we're going to be doing. So, I'm sure we’ll get that ironed out in the next few weeks.”
Does anyone really believe tight end Dennis Pitta wasn't worth $32 million?

It was a no-brainer for the Baltimore Ravens to sign Pitta to that five-year deal Friday. I understand that Pitta has only had one season with over 40 catches. He is also coming off a season where he missed most of the year with a serious hip injury.

But the Ravens didn't overpay. There is no way to make such an argument when looking at the numbers. Pitta is going to average $6.4 million per season. That's not the highest for tight ends. It's not even in the top five. Pitta's average places him No. 9, behind St. Louis' Jared Cook, Seattle's Zach Miller and Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis.

Take a look at the production from those tight ends last season:
  • Cook: 51 catches for 671 yards and five touchdowns
  • Miller: 33 catches for 387 yards and five touchdowns
  • Lewis: 25 catches for 359 yards and four touchdowns

If Pitta is healthy in 2014, it's a safe bet that he's going to exceed those numbers. He'll likely end up as the Ravens' leading receiver, based on how he finished the 2012 season. In his last 12 games that season, Pitta caught 43 passes for 523 yards and eight touchdowns.

The fact that Pitta agreed to this modest deal before free agency shows that he either really wanted to stay in Baltimore or he didn't expect much interest in the open market. Perhaps it was a little of both. Pitta would have made $7.035 million under the franchise tag, which is more than his per-season average in this new deal.

Where the Ravens opened up the wallet is on the guaranteed money, which is reportedly $16 million. That's more than the amount given to Jason Witten ($13.5 million), Rob Gronkowski ($13.1 million) and Vernon Davis ($11.1 million). It's just not much of a risk to guarantee that type of money to someone like Pitta, who is a high-character player who reports to camps in shape.

Pitta is 28 and is in the prime of his career. He is a trusted target who comes up big on third downs and in the end zone. Last year, you could make the case that the Ravens overspent on quarterback Joe Flacco. This year, you can't do the same with Pitta. It was a great deal for the Ravens.
Let's take a look at the Baltimore Ravens' Twitter mailbag:

 

Nearly a year ago to this day, the Baltimore Ravens signed quarterback Joe Flacco to an NFL-record contract. On Friday, they gave him another valuable gift.

Signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract leaves no doubt that Flacco will have his security blanket for the foreseeable future.

There was never any doubt that the Ravens were going to bring back Pitta for the 2014 season. The Ravens were going to put the franchise tag on Pitta if they didn't strike a long-term deal.

The key here is making certain that Pitta is going to be around for years to come. The theme of this offseason for the Ravens is to improve the NFL's 29th-ranked offense. Securing Pitta is a significant move to making this offense better for the long run.

Pitta
At 28, Pitta is in the prime of his career. He gives the Ravens reliability in the passing game. Pitta doesn't drop passes, converts third downs and finds a way to get open in the end zone.

While Pitta doesn't get mentioned in the same company as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, he is just as valuable to the Ravens' offense. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Pitta has been one of the most frequently targeted tight ends over the last two seasons. Flacco targeted Pitta on 26.4 percent of the routes he ran in 2012 and 2013. That ranks third among tight ends behind Gronkowski (29.2 percent) and Graham (28.7 percent).

Before his hip injury in July 2013, Pitta tied the Ravens record for touchdowns by a tight end with seven in 2012. In the Ravens' Super Bowl run, he scored a touchdown in three of the four postseason games. His 5-yard touchdown grab in the AFC Championship Game put the Ravens ahead for good in the third quarter. His 1-yard touchdown reception in the Super Bowl staked the Ravens to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.

"Dennis creates a number of mismatch problems for defenses. He makes it tough on them, and because of that, he really helps out our wide receivers," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Opponents have to always pay attention to where he lines up and where his routes take him."

As much as the Ravens were criticized for trading away Anquan Boldin, they should be applauded for getting a deal done with Pitta. He is a clutch performer who steps up in timely situations. The best way to measure Pitta's impact is this: The Ravens ranked 31st in red zone and 20th on third downs with Pitta out for most of 2013. It would be a shock if the Ravens ranked that low with Pitta in the lineup for a full season.

Flacco is happy. He has that intermediate target he trusts to make the catch in traffic and not drop the ball. That was missing from the Ravens' offense last season.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is happy. Tight ends are a big part of his offense. Just look at Owen Daniels' production for the Houston Texans.

Pitta is happy. He has a rapport with Flacco, who is his best friend on the team. They often go out together with their wives, whether it's to get pizza or go to an Orioles game. Before games, Pitta and Flacco are usually the first players on the field, throwing passes to get warmed up.

And the Ravens' front office is happy as well. The other factor to signing Pitta to a long-term deal is the Ravens didn't have to use the franchise tag. That would've taken away at least $6.8 million of the Ravens' salary cap heading into free agency. Although the details of Pitta's deal aren't known, the Ravens reduced his cap number this year.

It's simple math: More cap room, more players. This gives the Ravens more freedom to add a center (Alex Mack?), offensive tackle (Eugene Monroe?) and wide receiver (Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks or Julian Edelman?) in free agency. The Ravens are setting themselves up to be active players in the free-agent market after creating $5 million in cap room by releasing fullback Vonta Leach and linebacker Jameel McClain on Thursday.

Another ramification of signing Pitta is this allows the Ravens to turn their focus toward re-signing Monroe. While the sides are reportedly far apart, the Ravens have 11 days to negotiate with him before he hits the free-agent market. He is now the priority on the offensive side of the ball before free agency begins.

Reaching an agreement with Pitta is an impressive first step toward turning around the Ravens offense. But the Ravens know their work is far from done.

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