The Baltimore Ravens released veteran tight end Todd Heap back in 2011 in a cost-cutting move, and hoped to replace what he brought to the field for a decade with a pair of young draftees in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, whom they drafted in Heap’s final season with the team.
Dickson won the starting job and had a fine season in 2011, catching 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns, but his career trajectory fell off sharply since then, and he has never caught more than 25 passes, 300 yards, or two touchdowns in a season since, the two most recent being with the Panthers.
Coincidentally, the Ravens have not really had the services of Pitta for the past two seasons, either—or in 2013, for that matter. He dislocated and fractured his hip in the summer of 2013 and only returned to the field in Week 14. He dislocated his hip yet again in Week Three of the 2014 season, and has not played since.
The veteran was informed by doctors in November that it would be unwise to return to football because of his hip injury; however, Pitta is resolved to return to the game, and has agreed to take a pay cut in order to help facilitate that with the Ravens, after he signed a five-year, $32-million contract in 2014. He will have the opportunity to earn back some of that money through incentives, assuming he is able to make the roster.
Any services that Pitta can offer the Ravens will be to their advantage, considering that second-year tight end Nick Boyle has been suspended for the first 10 games of the 2016 season, and they are counting on second-round pick Maxx Williams to step into a much larger role after starting seven games as a rookie, catching 32 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown.
Baltimore did go out and sign veteran Benjamin Watson during the offseason, who had a bit of a renaissance year in his 12th seasons with New Orleans, setting career-highs with 74 receptions for 825 yards and tying a career-high with six touchdown receptions. Of course, the 35-year-old is not being counted on to match that production from a year ago.
Also on the roster is Crockett Gillmore, a third-year tight end who had solid production in 10 games in his second season in 2015. Watson, Williams, and Gillmore are the three rostered tight ends that they can count on, but if Pitta is able to return to the field, they will no doubt have a roster spot for him.
Gillmore, by the way, underwent shoulder surgery, adding to the complications that the Ravens are facing at the tight end position. It was believed at one point that he would have to have both shoulders operated on, but the lesser extent of the surgery should lessen his recovery time.
Pitta was an integral part of the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl team, in spite of the fact that he only technically started five games, playing in 16. He caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season, but more importantly, he added another 14 receptions for 163 yards and three touchdowns—including a touchdown in the Super Bowl—during their playoff run.