Historically, Tight Ends have played a crucial role in the success of Baltimore’s NFL teams. Both the Baltimore Colts and Baltimore Ravens used the Tight End position as a focal point in their passing offenses. It did not matter if the situation involved John Mackey racing down field to snag a record setting 75 yards pass from Johnny Unitas in Super Bowl V or Shannon Sharpe making dozens of clutch catches, in traffic, to lead the Ravens into the playoffs and on to an improbable Super Bowl XXXV victory over the New York Giants or Todd Heap grabbing one of his 41 career touchdown passes or Dennis Pitta catching a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco in Super Bowl XLVII; Tight Ends have always been the linchpins of professional football in Baltimore.
“Tight Ends have always been the linchpins of professional football in Baltimore.”
Last season is now ancient history. The Ravens’ 10-6 record and their return to the playoffs are in the distant past. A new NFL season begins in less than a week and the Ravens have a lot of issues to resolve. One of the most important issues they face is resolving the Tight End situation.
Starting Tight End Dennis Pitta, who was once considered a rising star, might not be available to the Ravens for all or part of 2015. If that is the case, it will be the third consecutive year during which Pitta has missed a significant amount of time.
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Pitta suffered a serious hip injury to begin the 2013 season. That injury sidelined him for two thirds of the year. Although the injury initially appeared to be career threatening, the Ravens chose to place Pitta on the IR-Designated to Return list. After reconstructive surgery and a long and grueling rehabilitation, Pitta did return and finished the year strong.
Pitta started the 2014 season looking like the Dennis Pitta of old. He performed well in his first two games; then the fierce and fiery tongue of injury got him again. While running a pass route in the third game of the season, Pitta went down without being touched by a single defender. With one unfortunate cut, Pitta’s future and the Ravens’ playoff hopes became enmeshed in uncertainty. Pitta had re-injured the hip. He had sustained the same injury (fracture and dislocation) to the same hip and left the field in the very same way; on a cart.
“With one unfortunate cut, Pitta’s future and the Ravens’ playoff hopes became enmeshed in uncertainty”
Fortunately, the Ravens had used the off season to obtain an insurance policy. Veteran Tight End Owen Daniels, who had been cut by the Houston Texans following Head Coach Gary Kubiak’s departure, had been signed as a free agent. Daniels had been acquired to add depth and to be Pitta’s back-up. Suddenly, he was “the next man up.” He had become the starter and, as the Ravens had hoped, he played well.
In a simultaneous move, The Ravens elevated practice squad Tight End Phillip Supernaw, who had been cut several times by the Ravens, to the active 53-Man roster. They also placed more responsibility on Rookie Crockett Gilmore but decided not to bring in another veteran to back up Daniels.
The Ravens know that Dennis Pitta might not be available in 2015. He might decide that the risk to his health is too great and submit his retirement papers. He might decide to play but, for one reason or another, cannot play well enough to fulfill his role as the No. 1 Tight End. At this point, the Ravens cannot afford to wait for “the final answer.” They must proceed as if Pitta will not be return to the team.
Last season’s safety net, Owen Daniels is now an Unrestricted Free Agent. He has expressed a desire to return to the Ravens, but, if Julius Thomas does not re-sign with the Denver Broncos (former Houston Texans Head Coach and Ravens Offensive Coordinator is now the Broncos’ Head Coach), Daniels might be inclined to sign with Denver.
Third year man Phillip Supernaw (an Exclusive Rights Free Agent) and Crocket Gilmore (Ravens’ third round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft) both showed promise last season but both are still too inexperienced for the Ravens to rely on as permanent starters.
Da Windy City
The Ravens must consider getting an experienced Tight End in free agency. However, General Manager Ozzie Newsome appears to have a history of passing on “top shelf” free agents unless they have been “cut” by other teams. If he follows that course in pursuing a Tight End, the market for the Ravens might be tighter than they anticipate.
Regardless of what they do in free agency, the Ravens will probably draft a Tight End in the middle to late rounds of the NFL Draft but Crockett Gilmore appears to be as good as any prospect Ozzie Newsome could get in Chicago. It might behoove Newsome to try engineering a trade but he must aggressively pursue that option; the time for “letting things develop” has passed. The Ravens must do something and they must do it soon. Right now, new Offensive Coordinator Mark Trestman has more questions than answers and the Ravens have more problems than solutions. Now is the time for the Ravens to take “bold” action instead of backing into a resolution.