Will Ravens use franchise tag on Pitta?

Will Ravens use franchise tag on Pitta?
January 8, 2014, 2:00 pm
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Ozzie Newsome wants Dennis Pitta back for Ravens

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said on Wednesday that he hopes tight end Dennis Pitta will be back with the Ravens next year, but said "there are no guarantees" when a player hits the free agent market, as Pitta is scheduled to do in March.

The Ravens, though, could sign Pitta to a long-term deal before that, or could use the franchise tag on Pitta, whose absence much of the season because of a training camp hip injury was a key factor in the offense's demise.

Newsome, speaking at the annual 'State of the Ravens' end-of-season news conference, said using the franchise tag is "a possibility," and Pitta would be among the most likely targets.

The franchise tag for a tight end would amount to about a one-year, $6.7 million deal.

"He still has the skill set to be a very productive receiver in this league," Newsome said. "Going forward, we would like to have Dennis on our football team. He plays winning football for us. He's a mismatch problem for defenses."

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Pitta, who turns 29 in June, missed the first 12 games after suffering a fractured hip early in training camp. His value, though, might have actually increased with his injury, as the Ravens other tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark, failed to be suitable replacements. They are both pending free agents as well.

Pitta finished the season with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown. Last season, Pitta emerged as one of quarterback Joe Flacco's most popular and reliable targets, with 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 14 more catches and three touchdowns in the playoffs.

Pitta could test free agency in March, and Newsome braced himself for that possibility.

"There are no guarantees," Newsome said. "One thing about this business: We wanted (Paul) Kruger and (Dannell) Ellerbe last year and we weren't able to keep them."

Still, the Ravens could take Pitta off the free-agent marketplace by placing the franchise tag on him, which must be done in a two-week window from Feb. 17-March 3. That would also buy them time to work out a longer-term deal, which is what they did with running back Ray Rice in 2012. And a long-term deal could create a smaller cap hit in 2014 than the $6.7 million franchise tag.

The Ravens saw what their offense looked like without Pitta last season and it wasn't pretty. One way or another, the bet here is he's back next season.