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Franchise Tag For Pitta is Not “Right Player, Right Price”

Lombardi's Way Franchise Tag For Pitta is Not “Right Player, Right Price”

Posted in Lombardi's Way

So the Ravens and Dennis Pitta aren’t closing the gap on a new contract. That should come as no surprise. It’s the nature of the negotiating beast during this time of the offseason.

Perhaps the discussions will lead to a happy ending for both parties. Perhaps they won’t but regardless the Ravens should maintain a stiff upper lip and let the process play out without using the franchise tag on Pitta.

“The tag” has been bantered about as a convenient option for Pitta because the number for tight ends is relatively inexpensive at approximately $6.8M.

Understanding, even anticipating that play from Ozzie Newsome & Co., Pitta’s agent Justin Schulman is said to be preparing an argument to support a wide receiver’s franchise tag (approximately $11.7M) for his client given the percentage of snaps he lined up in the slot in 2013 v. that of an in-line tight end.

Nice try Schulman but that argument has cold case written all over it and more than likely it’s D.O.A.

Dennis Pitta played in four games after his return from a severe hip injury. It could be argued that upon his return Pitta wasn’t in the best football condition to withstand steady in-line blocking assignments and that the team thought it would be best to line the tight end in the slot more times than not.

It could also be argued that given the nature of those four games, two of which were decided losses (New England, Cincinnati) and another during which the last 2 minutes were played at a frenetic offensive pace, that the Ravens had no choice but to use Pitta in the slot to improve their chances for a win or for a comeback in the two losses.

There’s simply not enough evidence for Schulman’s argument to have a snowball’s chance.

And that brings us back to the tight end tag number of $6.8M.

Pitta is a fine pass catcher who is willing to make a tough catch in traffic. He’s a dependable outlet for Joe Flacco. But so were Todd Heap and Derrick Mason and their departures were clearly handled in stride.

The argument that Pitta and Flacco have this awesome chemistry and it might upset the Ravens quarterback if he loses Pitta is ridiculous. These guys are professionals and as they often remind us, it’s a business.

They get that players have to chase the money given the short careers.

They understand that NFL can mean Not-For-Long.

If your franchise quarterback is upset that his double-date dinner buddy is moving on and it affects his play, then he’s not the professional you thought. So let’s give Flacco some credit here and assume that he will handle a possible Pitta departure like a pro.

But back to Pitta, is he really among the game’s best five tight ends? That’s what the franchise tag and the accompanying salary suggest.

Looking back on 2013, did the Ravens struggle because Pitta wasn’t around for 12 games or was it the atrocious play of the offensive line?

Nevermind, rhetorical question…

The fact is the Ravens were a .500 team in 2013 with or without Pitta. That $6.8 million or a portion thereof could go towards repairing some obvious weaknesses.

A look at tight end salaries around the league reveals that some of Pitta’s better peers (Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Jermaine Gresham, Marcedes Lewis, Heath Miller and Rob Gronkowski) will be paid on average $4.9M in 2014.

One could make the argument that each of these players is at least as good as Pitta an in some cases much better. But at least they represent a solid sampling and their paychecks are a fair representation of what Pitta should expect.

That $1.9M extra (the difference between the average of the aforementioned players and the franchise number) could go a long way towards signings like that of Daryl Smith in 2013 and towards providing valuable cap space for another targeted free agent like Eugene Monroe.

The Ravens also need to consider new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s ability to get production out of the tight end position. In 2012 when Kubiak had an adequate starting QB in the form of a mentally stable Matt Schaub, tight ends named Owen Daniels, James Casey and Garrett Graham combined to produce on average 7.75 catches, 81.8 yards and 0.75 TD’s per game.

Comparatively speaking in 2012 the Ravens’ tight ends, with a healthy Pitta registered 5.13 catches, 55.9 yards and 0.44 TD’s per game.

It would be great to have Pitta back as a target for Joe Flacco in 2014. But given the multitude of team needs it would be a mistake to overpay an above average tight end coming off a major injury elite money vis-à-vis the franchise tag.

The smart move for the Ravens would be to let the market determine Pitta’s worth, negotiate a gentleman’s agreement with Schulman to give the Ravens a final look before Pitta accepts another team’s offer, and then see where the chips fall.

If the deal is too rich the Ravens need to be prepared to move on. Those millions could go a long way to improve the team’s roster in other areas.

“Right player, right price” has to mean something even when applied to a fan and quarterback favorite like Dennis Pitta.

It’s the nature of the negotiating beast.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan. A diehard Fab Four fan, Tony is a frustrated musician who thinks beating on the steering wheel is akin to being John Bonham. Follow Tony on Twitter @RussellStReport. More from Tony Lombardi
24 comments
ravensean509@gmail.com
ravensean509@gmail.com

Per NFL.com, pitta just agreed to a 5 year 32mil deal. Aaron Wilson is the quoted source.

Nancy
Nancy

I hope he looks that last one up! Whew, as a teacher in HC I sure hope he didn't come through our system

Nick B.
Nick B.

Totally agree, but that 4.9mil number from Spotrac isn't really accurate. I'm not sure which specific number you're using from their site, but 8 TEs have a salary cap hit north of 7mil next year. The guys you mentioned will average 7.28mil I believe. I'm sure Pitta's agent will want that average in a long term deal and I don't think he's worth it.

Mark D
Mark D

I 100% agree with jws and I 100% agree with Tony ;-)

Bmorelady
Bmorelady

I agree. I love PITTA and certainly want him to stay a RAVEN but it is what it is. You were drafted as a TE, you are introduced as a TE, and you play TE as the position has evolved in the NFL. I don't agree with him trying to be labelled as a WR. I am all for PITTA being paid fairly for his role on our team. I would even say go as high as $5.5 million. But $11.6 million is just laughable. Plus the truth is that I expected much more from PITTA. There are many ways the RAVENS could pay him more without crippling the sLary cap. The RAVENS are fairly well known for paying a little higher than fair market without over-paying players & I don't think we should change up now. Just like we don't mortgage the future for the present, we DONT OVER-PAY PLAYERS. It's one of the reasons we are a top franchise for leadership. While I recognize that THE WIZARD OF OZ is not perfect, (trading BOLDIN was a mistake) he's sti one if the closest to it out there. Only Bill Belichik can rival THE WIZARD OF OZ and I trust OZ will ALWAYS do what's best for our team. If PITTA's gotta go then PITTA's gotta go. We'll get over it & survive just fine

TRUTH
TRUTH

"vis-a`-vis"..whoa dare Tony, don' be usin' dem dare big ol fancy words on me now, derby dooby-doo dat don' got me all dag on confused.

Mark
Mark

Tony, On the money. Don't tag him at all even if at TE rate! My guess is Pitta would like to stay but his agent thinks he is worth more to the Ravens than to other teams. If somebody will pay him more, the Ravens will move on.

Hollywoodheiz
Hollywoodheiz

If Ed Dickson could actually catch a football for the entire season this would not even be an issue. Those visions of his drops are still haunting to many of us fans. On the other hand if the plan was to let Boldin walk ( woops, "trade" him), then let Pita move into the slot for a season I'm not too sure the organization will just scrub that plan without seeing it thru. Should be an interesting negotiation.

jws
jws

TONY. All these unknowable fans with an opinion that ALWAYS seem to agree with you are sad cases of what today's NFL fans have become!They watch games with little real ability to totally understand formations, inner workings of coaches and players or relationships with what it takes to win or any other aspects of what REALLY haapens both on and off the field each week. Do any of them know that That where a player lineups and takes over 50% of his snaps determines his status as a tight end or wide receiver and that this is NOT debateable by fans or mediainain Pita's protest hearing as Siuggs did a few years ago? Today Mike Preston wrote an article like this and has no clue either of why Pita will win his protest for getting a higher number in sslary if tagged as a TE! I agree with your thoughts but your stats on other tight ends is far from accuarate since all of them are in the later years of their contracts and years before a tight end really becamein recent yaers more of a receiver than TE and now must be paid as such. Another facaor most media are leaving out is the Ravens have NO tight ends signed for next year and many needs in the draft. No doubt he will if he becomes a free agentlose Pita and he will sign somewhere else likely Atlanta or New England. We also have no quailty slot receivesr or clutch sure handed third down receivers signed to move the chains or score TDS. The question you propose is an interesting one, should Pita get a long term deal with the Ravens that may overpay him or let him test free agency?Tis why Ozzie gets paid BIG BUCKS! HE WILL BE FRANCHISED if not signed by March 3rd long term!

JerryB
JerryB

Excellent assessment, Tony! We all like Pitta and his value to the Ravens is unquestionable. But.....he's a TE and should be paid as such. That being said, if he can get more on the open market, then no one should begrudge him that, including Flacco, who got himself a very rich contract!

JPP
JPP

What's amazing is everyone is in agreement on this.

Joshua
Joshua

I know the organization may not agree with this, but my opinion is Monroe is the top priority this offseason. If Joe continues to get harassed every game, it won't matter who his weapons are. High-quality starting left tackles do not grow on trees, so, while I want Pitta back as much as anyone, I think the focus right now should be on locking up Monroe long-term.

Red Raven
Red Raven

Bye Bye Pita. And for the people thinking New England would overpay for him, Take a look at how they build thier team, through the draft and value free agents. Like the Ravens. He will get to test a cold FA market or go to a desparate loosing team. I would be much happier using the Tag on Monroe and drafting Ebron!

Matt D.
Matt D.

Agreed. Pitta is not in the highest tier among TEs and should not expect to get paid as one, either. He should get paid as an above average, 28 year old TE and nothing more or less. If he wants to push the TE designation, the Ravens should point him to his buddy Joe and see if he's willing to take a cut to compensate for Pitta's expectations. If he's not willing to do that, then he's clearly not worth what he thinks he is.

Bruce_Almty
Bruce_Almty

I figure the Ravens have the money to re-sign Monroe; the Pitta tag money could be better used to woo Alex Mack to Baltimore.

joe d
joe d

Tony, agree 100%. Pitta will be 29 when training camp opens and he is coming off a severe, no contact, hip injury. I wouldn't break the bank to keep him around. Rather see the Ravens use the money to get Monroe re-signed. I am sure we can pick up a decent tight end down the road after players are released and also through the draft. Ravens ought to tell Pitta to bring them his best offer and give them a final chance to meet or beat it.

Steve
Steve

My thoughts exactly. I like Pitta, but I don't feel like he's head and shoulders above most TEs in the league. We may be able to get as good or better option in the draft this year at a lot better price.

Fernando
Fernando

Totally agree. Also, all this appeal to be tagged as a WR b******* is annoying me quite a bit. If he is so eager to get so much money, let him try and get it somewhere else... Like you said, that money can be used to try and re-sing other players (maybe even Art Jones!).

Tony Lombardi
Tony Lombardi

With all due respect you don't negotiate based on the cap number. You negotiate based on real numbers paid and the $4.9 is the average of the real number paid THAT season just like the $6.8 franchise tag number would be that paid in 2014 to Pitta. The number you've pointed out includes unamortized bonus money as well. When you consider that and the fact that contracts are often backloaded with inflated annual salaries (oftentimes for show for an agent's marketing purposes), you will get higher cap numbers at the tail end of contracts (see Suggs old deal and Ngata). My point was to compare real dollars paid in 2014.

Tony Lombardi
Tony Lombardi

So if you disagree with the stats JWS, you should probably take that up with Pro Football Reference. If you disagree with the salary figures of the other tight ends, you should take that up with http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/. And if you think everyone agrees with me, you haven't been paying attention.

Tucker: M&T Sec 527
Tucker: M&T Sec 527

I doubt he'd do better or even as good as the Tag money on the open market. Only in Baltimore does the "chemistry w/ Flacco" play, the injury leaves concern about how he'll hold up over a full year, he's not a great blocking TE. He's no bum, but I doubt anyone wants him right now more than we do. He can be had for a cap-friendlier price.

jws
jws

I do not need to look up Pro Football Refrence which as usual was your respnse in your nasty, sarcastic stupid way of answering one's intelligent thoughts. Since you are smarter, more educated than me you should read my answer over if you did not undersnatd it. I did not diagre with tightend salaries you mentioned, I said many are from years ago of contractsn that are in the backend of theirdeals with these salaries still owe to them which by the way and is he most important point here are in the lower end of what today's new breed of tight ends will be signing. Also th eguys you mention take more than 50% of snaps next to an offensive lineman. How come if tight ends are paid so littlein your stats, could a price tag this year be so high for that posoition? As far as signing Pita as a tight end you left off the three options the Ravens have in tagging him and the transsition tag would work well and THOUGH THE RAVENS COULD LOSE HIM THEY CAN MATCH ANY BEST OFFER AND HE GETS PAID FAR LESS OF THE AVERAGE OF THE 10 HIGHEST TIGHT ENDS. As far fans disagreeing with you , my commenst reffered to this article where all that had replied before me ,NONE had disagree with you. Since you like looking up refrerence books see if the player agents that are commenting on NFL radio are correct when they said it depends where you take your snaps when on the field that determines if you are classifield as atight end under the neww 2012 CBA agreement.

Tony Lombardi
Tony Lombardi

Three things JWS: 1) Go back and read your original comment to this blog. There you'll find the first and only sarcastic salvo; 2) Players typically have higher salaries at the back end of their contracts so I think your point is a bit off the mark; and 3) The potential savings of a transition tag (the average of the top 10 salaries at a players position from the previous season) relative to a franchise tag (average of Top 5) is not significant enough to risk losing the player without compensation. If another teams signs a transitioned player to an offer that the original team fails to match, the original team receives no compensation. Same situation with a franchised player, original team get 2 first round picks. In other words, the transition tag is obsolete. Sorry if you took my matter-of-fact reply as sarcastic. If anything it was self-deprecating.

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