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Late For Work 2/24: Ravens 'May Balk' At Dennis Pitta's Salary And Are Mulling Options

Posted Feb 24, 2017

Eric Weddle reaches out to Tony Jefferson. Rick Wagner could become the NFL's second-highest paid right tackle. Qadry Ismail: WR development is a big question facing the Ravens. The importance of running backs being able to block.

Ravens ‘May Balk’ At Dennis Pitta’s Salary And Are Mulling Options

Tight end Dennis Pitta said he’s a sucker for reality TV.

Well, the drama of “The Real Tight Ends of Baltimore” is in full swing.

The Ravens “may balk” at his 2017 salary and are mulling the idea of releasing the seven-year veteran, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

While Pitta’s salary has been a steady debate among Baltimore fans and media this offseason, the conclusion many people have come to is that the Ravens should approach Pitta about taking a pay cut instead of outright releasing him.

Here’s why:

What shouldn't go overlooked is the Ravens will unlikely get immediate salary-cap room from parting ways with Pitta,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “Baltimore could say goodbye to Joe Flacco's favorite target and then have to wait three months before being able to use the created cap space.”

That’s because the Ravens would have to designate Pitta as a post-June 1 release to get $5.5 million in cap relief with $2.2 million in dead money. If he was released prior to that time, Baltimore would incur more dead money ($4.4 million) than cap space ($3.3 million), according to Russell Street Report’s Brian McFarland.

As such, it wouldn’t make much sense to release Pitta, 31, without the June designation.

So, if it wouldn’t help when free agency opens on March 9, why would the Ravens consider cutting Pitta down the road, especially after he caught more passes (86) than any tight end in the league last season?

Hensley gives three reasons:

1) While Pitta caught a massive amount of passes coming off two major hip surgeries, there’s concern he lost a step after averaging just 8.5 yards per catch, which ranked No. 28 among tight ends last season.

2) Baltimore simply doesn't want to pay the sixth-highest base salary for a tight end after Pitta only produced two touchdowns and added few downfield plays.

3) Maybe the Ravens have confidence that the four other young tight ends on the roster will step up and veteran tight end Benjamin Watson will bounce back from Achilles surgery. But with Nick BoyleMaxx WilliamsCrockett Gillmore and Darren Waller all having red flags with either injury or suspension histories, Hensley says the Ravens should keep at least either Watson or Pitta. Watson may have an edge because his $3 million salary next season is nearly half of Pitta's.

That brings us full circle to this mostly being a financial decision, and whether Pitta would be agreeable to a pay cut.

“Baltimore would probably be open to keeping Pitta at a reduced cost,” Hensley said. “He agreed to a $4 million pay cut last year ($3 million of which he later recovered in incentives) because he didn't play in 2015 after having two hip surgeries.

“The questions are whether Pitta would do this again after setting a career high in catches, and what would the Ravens do if Pitta declined a pay reduction.”

Eric Weddle Reaches Out To Tony Jefferson, Who Ravens Are Reportedly Interested In Signing

Amidst reports that Baltimore is interested in signing Arizona Cardinals pending free-agent safety Tony Jefferson, Ravens safety Eric Weddle reached out to the up-and-coming player.

Weddle crashed Jefferson’s Twitter Q&A with this question:

Jefferson’s cryptic reply gave no clarity as to whether he’d sign with Baltimore as a free agent, but he clearly acknowledged the possibility of playing next to Weddle.

Some could see this as Weddle’s attempt to recruit Jefferson to the purple and black. Or maybe this is just two guys from Southern California (their high schools are two hours apart) messing around. The two also joked on Twitter about the NBA and L.A. Lakers.

If the Ravens really are interested in Jefferson, Weddle isn’t a bad recruiter to have on their side.

But in the video below, my colleague Garrett Downing has some questions about Baltimore signing Jefferson. Would the Ravens pay the big money Jefferson is expected to get on the open market? Would he fit next to Weddle (both are strong safeties)? What about Lardarius Webb, who is still under contract for next year?

Rick Wagner Could Become Second-Highest Paid Right Tackle

If Spotrac.com’s projected $6.9 annual salary for pending free-agent Rick Wagner is correct, that would make him the second-highest paid right tackle in the NFL.

What does that mean for the Ravens’ ability to sign Wagner, who already reportedly rebuffed Baltimore’s initial offer?

“The Baltimore Ravens might be a couple weeks away from watching another starting offensive lineman receive a lucrative payday elsewhere,” wrote Hensley.

Hensley added that Wagner “should draw interest” from teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, who are looking for starting right tackles. Wagner may want to reconnect with Russell Wilson in Seattle after protecting him as a college quarterback at Wisconsin.

“Losing Wagner would continue an unwanted trend of players leaving Baltimore after being developed there for four seasons,” wrote Hensley.

“In the last four offseasons, another team has given at least one Ravens free agent more than $12 million in guaranteed money. Linebackers Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, wide receiver Torrey Smith and [guard Kelechi] Osemele received a total of $91.9 million in guaranteed money.”

Qadry Ismail: WR Development A Big Question Facing Ravens

The Ravens have found repeated success in signing veteran wide receivers and getting a handful of productive years out of them before they finish their careers.

Qadry Ismail would know, as he was once one of those veteran free-agent signings in 1999, and won Super Bowl XXXV with Baltimore the following year.

What Ismail doesn’t know is why the Ravens have less success drafting and developing young receivers on their own. Why has the team struggled doing so over the years?

“That's probably one of the most challenging questions facing Ozzie Newsome as a general manager,” Ismail told Press Box. “And [the question remains] whether it be Brian Billick or even John Harbaugh as coaches. Because if you see where the game has been trending, and, obviously, Brian was a forward-thinking person as far as the passing attack, clearly, John Harbaugh has been fortunate enough to not only have a head-coaching position with the Ravens but also have a franchise quarterback -- so, you know, you would think it would be good to have receivers to not only get drafted but to be put in a position to perform well.

“But, I don't know, I mean, there's so many factors that go into it, yet, right in your own backyard, per se -- in the AFC North -- they have Pittsburgh that, you know, has proven time and time again that you can take later-round picks and turn them into high-level performers and even superstars in the league. So I think the variety of decisions that go on [in] trying to make up your roster, it can definitely wind up with you having some chinks in your draft process and missing out on a guy, where he just seems to fit into another system and performs well.” 

Importance Of Running Backs Being Able To Block

Los Angeles Rams Running Backs Coach Skip Peete was recently asked by ESPN how Todd Gurley, a 2015 first-round pick, can improve this season.

“This is going to blow your mind,” Peete replied. “It has nothing to do with the running game. I think the most important thing in this league, as far as a running back is concerned, is his ability to pass protect, whether it’s first or second down.”

The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec said this is an important statement for Ravens’ young running backs – Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon – to absorb and take to heart. In a pass-happy NFL, running backs’ ability to identify and pick up defensive blitzes is critical.

Just look at the Atlanta Falcons as an example. They could be Super Bowl champions right now had Devonta Freeman not whiffed on a blitz that led to a strip/sack of quarterback Matt Ryan.

Zrebiec said the Ravens didn’t have enough confidence for their running backs to be on the field during passing third-down situations last season, which is why they often brought in fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

“Nothing against Juszczyk, but the Ravens need their top playmakers on the field at all times, and West and Dixon need to prove they can be trusted to pick up blitzes,” Zrebiec wrote. “Until they do, it’s going to be tough for either of them to be on the field on third downs.”

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