Whether they like it or not, the Ravens will need to address their tight end situation.
The Baltimore Ravens are not short in tight end depth. They came into the 2016 season five deep in the position with Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, Darren Waller, Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams. It would have been more if Ben Watson had not suffered an Achilles injury in preseason.
During the season, injuries and suspensions left only two viable options at the position: Pitta and Waller. Crockett Gillmore was limited to only seven games and Nick Boyle sat out the first 10 games of the season serving a suspension. Maxx Williams also missed the majority of the season with a knee injury. Coming into 2017, there are too many tight ends on the team. It will be decision time for the Ravens because not all of them can stay.
Realistically, the Ravens cannot have six tight ends on their roster. That is too many players for one position. The team needs depth in more important positions like wide receiver and cornerback Ideally, it would be best to keep four on the roster for the upcoming season. With contract situations, the Ravens will most likely keep five in case on injury.
Ben Watson Must Go
Watson signed a two year deal with the Ravens last offseason but has not been able to play because of injury. An Achilles injury is very hard to come back from and there is a risk that it could happen again. It is unfortunate that Watson has not had the chance to show what he can do, but the NFL is a business. He is the favorite to get cut because the Ravens will free up a much needed $4 million in cap space. If he was younger, there might be more of an argument to keep him, but at 36, it looks like his time in Baltimore is over.
Dennis Pitta Must Stay
Many fans believe that the Ravens should cut Dennis Pitta this offseason, but it would not be a good move. He has suffered two major injuries in the past, but last season was promising. He was able to show his durability by playing all 16 games. Along with durability he showed flashes of his old self. Pitta was the second leading receiver behind Mike Wallace, with 729 yards.
Cutting Pitta this offseason will not make any sense financially. He is still in the middle of a five year contract that he signed in 2013. There is about $6 million in dead money that the Ravens would owe him if he is cut. The team is already too much in dead money and there is no need to add to the total.
Like it or not, Pitta is the best option at tight end going into the next season. The younger talent have not proven that they can be regular starters. He is one of the lone starters left from the 2012 Super Bowl team and Joe Flacco is comfortable throwing to him. The two have chemistry on the field and Pitta serves as a security blanket. If it ultimately does not work this year, the Ravens can always cut him next season and it will not be as much of a cap hit.
What To Do With Younger Talent?
If the Ravens get rid of Watson and keep Pitta, it still leaves four tight ends on the roster: Gillmore, Boyle, Waller, and Williams. Assuming all are healthy, they will be battling for a spot on the 53 man roster. I do not see the team getting rid of any these players before the season. The key with this group is who can stay healthy.
Gillmore and Boyle have the most upside out of the group. During the 2015 season Gillmore had career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns. At 6’6″, he is a dangerous red zone target that is impossible to cover. When healthy, he is one of the better receivers on the roster and his upside is too much to pass up. Boyle is the best blocking tight end out of the group by far. His problem is the suspensions. One more and he could be missing a full season.
Waller and Williams are the wildcards. Waller had some trouble catching the ball last season, but he can also produce in special teams. Williams has had a disappointing start to his career and next season will tell what he has to offer. He has not gotten a fair opportunity to show what he can do, but the Ravens do not have time to spare. It is win or bust in Baltimore.
It will be interesting to see how the team handles this situation. There are many different ways they can go, but a move will ultimately need to be made.