When the Baltimore Ravens were planning for the 2016 season, they really weren’t counting on getting anything out of their veteran tight end, Dennis Pitta, who had essentially missed the past couple of seasons due to, primarily, a hip injury that was believed to have potentially ended his career.
They signed Benjamin Watson in the offseason, spent a second-round pick on Maxx Williams in 2015, and have a few other tight ends in the holster. It was thought that there might not even be room on the roster for Pitta unless he proved to be indispensable.
That situation clarified itself when Watson got injured and Pitta’s hip held up, but nobody expected him to produce as much as he did for the Ravens in 2016. He blew past his previous career-high in receptions by 25, catching 86 receptions for, again, a career-best 729 receiving yards. He only caught two touchdowns, but he only has one season in which he has caught more than three, and he now has 13 for his career.
The Ravens were anticipating big things from the former second-round draft pick following what seemed to be his breakout season in 2012 that led to the team’s latest Super Bowl victory, but that is when the injuries started. He had had only dressed for seven games between the 2013 and 2015 seasons before playing in all 16 for Baltimore last year.
It was a bit of a feel-good story given what he had gone through, with many assuming that he would never play again, but now that the reality is set in, the Ravens are facing the prospect of paying him $5.5 million for the 2017 season.
In spite of his injury-plagued 2013 season, the Ravens gambled on his health and signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract in the spring of 2014. He earned $5 million in base salary in 2014 and 2015 on the sidelines, but he agreed to drop his base salary down to $1 million for the 2016 season as he tried to come back from injury.
But he has base salaries of $5.5 million on each of the final two years remaining on his contract, and after having what is statistically in certain ways a career year, and demonstrating that he can still be a productive player, he probably isn’t going to be willing to give the team another discount.
With the Ravens needing cap space to re-sign players such as Brandon Williams—they are one of five teams with less than $15 million in cap space as of this moment—and with Watson returning, Pitta may become a salary cap casualty and end up on the free agent market.
Baltimore would save $3.3 million by cutting him after his 2018 signing bonus proration accelerates into 2017, and they would still have more than enough tight ends to get by. It’s a pretty reasonable move to make. The question is, what teams might consider kicking his tires? The Pittsburgh Steelers might be in the market for a tight end, but they have already been burned with damaged goods.