Dennis Pitta sure earned a nice payday for a 29-year-old-to-be tight end with only one season of more than 40 receptions. I'm sure some fans wonder if the Ravens overpaid.
I don't think they did.
Pitta has excellent chemistry with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. They're best friends and it translates into a nice partnership on the field. Pitta became a major target in 2012 and I expected him to have a big season in 2013 until he suffered a dislocated and fractured hip in training camp.
Now that he's back and healthy, I expect him to have a big season in 2014. Tight ends have a prominent role in Gary Kubiak's offense, which features a short-route passing game based on play-action fakes. Houston's Owen Daniels was targeted almost 600 times in eight seasons under Kubiak. Pitta could exceed that rate, given Flacco's predilection for throwing to him.
Yes, it cost the Ravens quite a bit to keep him from hitting the open market. But if there's a long-term solution to the Ravens' offensive issues, Pitta is part of it; not just talented but also a high-character guy who will keep himself in shape, making him a good bet to extend his career. His new salary compares with those of other tight ends who produce similarly. Five years for a reported $32 million is the going rate, and paying it to keep Pitta was a smart move – honestly, an easy call.
Now that the Ravens have locked up Pitta, do they really need to draft another tight end with their top pick? I ask because several mock drafts have them grabbing North Carolina's Eric Ebron, the top tight end in this year's class.
If he's still available when the Ravens pick, they'll face a tough decision. Ebron is considered a weapon-in-waiting. Surely Kubiak could find room in the offense for two dangerous tight ends.
But other factors will weigh heavily. The Ravens have a lot of needs, especially on offense. They could use a starting-caliber blocker and a quality wideout, and both should be available. Meanwhile, what they really need at tight end is a superior blocker to alternate with Pitta.
My guess is they end up going in another direction.
Re-signing tackle Eugene Monroe now becomes the Ravens' top priority.
There's a fair amount of urgency because Monroe likely will depart if he remains unsigned when free agency begins on March 11. Young blind-side tackles always have plenty of suitors.
The ideal move for the Ravens is to sign him to a long-term deal, but if they can't, they could put their franchise tag on him, keep him around for another year and buy more time to work out a deal. There had been speculation that they might have to tag Pitta, but they didn't, so it's an option. The deadline for tagging Monroe is Monday at 4 p.m.
Until recently, I would have lobbied against it. Monroe would earn $11 million on a one-year deal as a tagged player in 2014, and that's more than he warrants. But thanks to cap cuts and changes in the cap limit, the Ravens have more flexibility than usual. They could actually do this.
I'm much more open to the idea than I was a few weeks ago. Left tackle is no place to cut corners, and Monroe is a solid option.
The Ravens didn't want to release Vonta Leach or Jameel McClain. Both are veterans, leaders, tough guys who were key parts of a lot of success in Baltimore. But they're gone because, well, you know why. It's Salary Cap 101. Leach and McClain were due to earn more than the Ravens want to pay. The Ravens need the salary cap space.
In the final analysis, the Ravens think they can spend less to replicate what Leach and McClain provided. It's a gamble they have taken numerous times with other veterans, and more often than not, the Ravens have won the gamble. Most of their recent draft picks have become contributors. But nothing is certain, and their ability to replace Leach and McClain depends on how well they have drafted.
On their rough-draft blueprint for 2014, Leach is replaced by Kyle Juszczyk, a fourth-round pick in 2013, and McClain is replaced by Arthur Brown, a second-round pick in 2013. Neither young guy was ready to step in and start as a rookie, but the Ravens are hoping a year of seasoning has them good to go.
The Ravens aren't just hoping for the best; they're counting on their ability to know talent, draft talent and recognize when it is ready to blossom – organizational skills for which the Ravens have consistently earned accolades. Once again, it's time to prove that praise is deserved.