As the Baltimore Ravens take the field for OTA’s this week, one of the most intriguing storylines, as it has been for the past two years, will be the return of tight end Dennis Pitta.
Pitta, who recently sat down with Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com for an in depth interview in which the veteran tight end explained his decision to return to the football field. While Pitta hasn’t suited up for an NFL game since September of 2014, he fully expects to be the starting tight end when the Ravens take on Buffalo in week one.
This is where things get interesting for the Ravens and Pitta.
The tight end depth chart is stacked. With Pitta’s health uncertain, the Ravens added free agent tight end Benjamin Watson this offseason. He joins a crowded, young TE corps, which includes four players who were on last season’s roster. The Ravens will not carry five tight ends into the 2016. In the past, they’ve only carried three tight ends, but with the way the roster looks right now, they may need to carry four.
So where does Dennis Pitta fit?
Ben Watson put up the best numbers of his career last year, his 12th season in the NFL. Watson ranked second in receptions (74) for the Saints in 2015, producing 825 receiving yards and six touchdowns. All three either tied or set career highs. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome gleamed with excitement this offseason after landing the highly productive tight end. He’s a lock to make the roster. There’s one spot accounted for.
Crockett Gillmore is expected to be ready for the season after not needing surgery on his shoulder. He’s certainly safe after posting 33 catches for 412 yards and five touchdowns in 2015. Barring any setbacks, Gillmore should see a high number of snaps this season if he can stay healthy. He’s a lock for the second spot.
Maxx Williams will look to add to his solid rookie campaign. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher saw his reps increase dramatically following the injury to Gillmore. In 2016, Williams will likely return to a backup role, but he should still see plenty of action in Marc Trestman’s offense. As a second-round pick, the front office and coaching staff have high hopes for him. The Ravens won’t cut ties this early, especially at a position which is notorious for slow development. That’s three tight end spots filled.
The transition to tight end for Darren Waller won’t be an easy feat, but the Ravens have high hopes for the former wide receiver. Waller has size (6’6) which would provide Flacco with another huge red zone target. Waller’s 4.46 speed, however, could be the trait that separates him from the pack. His combination of size and speed could make for a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and safety in coverage. If Waller has a successful summer, he would be a hard player to cut. He would be the fourth tight end on the roster.
Nick Boyle’s status on the roster is in the most peril, even more so than Pitta. It’s clear to me that he will not be a member of the team in 2016. After his four-game suspension in 2015 for violating the league’s performance enhancing drugs policy, Boyle failed the same test in 2016, resulting in a ten-game suspension. Boyle has now twice put the organization in a bad situation. You certainly cannot help the team when you’ve been suspended for more weeks than you’ve actually played. While an official decision does not need to be made until week 11 regarding Boyle’s status, his off-the-field behavior does not warrant a spot on the Ravens roster if everyone else stays healthy.
There are certainly plenty of questions with the tight end group, but it doesn’t look like there will be room for Dennis Pitta to return. His road to recovery makes for a good story, and he clearly still has a strong desire to play the game.
But the Ravens have more proven options and younger players with greater potential. They will all be safer options than Pitta, who hasn’t played a down since the first month of the 2014 season. We all would love to see Pitta return as a Raven and play well, but there are simply too many risks.
Pitta’s journey should continue somewhere other than Baltimore, on another team without better options in both the short and long term.
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