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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”

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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 and CBS Sports 1300. 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's new Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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