Late For Work 2/11: Looking At Dennis Pitta's Contract If He Can't Play

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Looking At Pitta's Contract If He Can't Play

The last time reporters spoke with Head Coach John Harbaugh on Jan. 21, he decided to wait to give an update on tight end Dennis Pitta.

Harbaugh had recently received an overview of Pitta's latest visit with specialists, but said he "wouldn't really want to share until Dennis has had a chance to kind of consider all of the ramifications of it."

That statement provides little information, and it wouldn't be productive to speculate whether that means Pitta can ever play again after his second major hip injury in as many years. But The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec did think it was fair to point out that the response "lacked the optimism that Harbaugh had expressed the previous couple of times that he had been asked about Pitta."

With the Ravens looking like they'll be tight against the salary cap, fans are wondering if Pitta's contract is up for discussion during a time that the front office is negotiating with other players (Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, etc.).

The short answer is no.

"The Ravens are financially committed to Pitta even if he can't play in 2015," ESPN's Jamison Hensley told inquiring fans.

After successfully returning from his first dislocated and fractured hip, Pitta played in four games in 2014 and notched 20 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown. He appeared fully recovered, his chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco picked right back up, and the Ravens rewarded Pitta last offseason with a five-year deal reportedly worth $32 million.

Given that Pitta is entering just the second year of his contract, it wouldn't make financial sense to part ways with him even if he can't suit up.

Per reports, Pitta is due $4 million in guaranteed money and it would hurt the cap more if the Ravens released him instead of keeping him. His release would create $12.8 million in dead money against the cap, yet it would only cost $6.2 million to keep him. Zrebiec points out that a post-June 1 release would open up $4 million in salary cap space.

"Otherwise, there's not much the Ravens can really do with Pitta," Zrebiec asserts.

"The Ravens will keep him around whether it's on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve, and can make a decision on him in 2016," added Hensley.

The only thing that would release the Ravens of any financial commitments is if Pitta decided to retire. What are the chances of that?

"There's a distinct possibility that Pitta retires," Zrebiec wrote.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. It would be better for Pitta and the Ravens if he fully recovered and is once again catching passes from his best friend on the team.

The next time we could hear whether that is still a possibility could either be at the NFL Scouting Combine next week or at the annual State of the Ravens press conference on Feb. 24.

Is Jernigan Ready To Replace Ngata If Needed?

The ongoing contract negotiations with Ngata are "delicate," and ultimately it will be up to the five-time Pro Bowler to accept or decline any Ravens offer. The idea of an extension would be for him to take less money in 2015, but get more in the long-term and potentially retire a Raven.

If Ngata turns down whatever offer the Ravens make, all eyes will turn to last year's second-round pick Timmy Jernigan.

It will be up to Jernigan and Brandon Williams to step up if Ngata doesn't return.

WNST's Luke Jones examines whether Jernigan is ready to fill those gargantuan shoes.

"The 22-year-old Timmy Jernigan provided a good return in his rookie season after the Ravens selected him with the 48th overall pick last May, but does the Florida State product satisfy the '80-20 rule' quoted by some as justification to release Ngata if the sides are unable to work out a contract extension in the coming weeks?" asked Jones. "General Manager Ozzie Newsome must be sure a deep — but young — defensive line has the means to replace the five-time Pro Bowl selection."

Jernigan missed five games due to injuries last season, but he impressed when healthy, particularly when Ngata was out with a four-game suspension. During that time, Jernigan notched two sacks and seven tackles. Overall, Pro Football Focus graded Jernigan as the 14th best among qualifying defensive ends in a 3-4 defense last season, and Ngata came in at No. 9.

Comparing their numbers last season:

Jernigan (330 snaps): 23 tackles, four sacks
Ngata (546 snaps): 31 tackles, two sacks, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles, two interceptions

"Comparing Jernigan's skill set to Ngata in his prime would be unfair, but his quickness, strength, and leverage at the 3-technique project well — even if he lacks Ngata's massive frame — against the run and as a rusher," Jones wrote.

"It might be unfair to ask whether Jernigan will be the better player in 2015, but wondering if the young defensive tackle will outperform Ngata by 2016 and 2017 when the veteran is approaching his mid-30s is an entirely different matter. And that could be the tipping point as the Ravens try to determine a dollar figure that makes sense for extending their 31-year-old defensive tackle, who had a strong 2014 season but battled nagging injuries that hindered his play in the previous two years."

Will Tyrod Return As Flacco's Backup?

Flying under the radar among unrestricted free agents is backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

We've never gotten a clear look at what Taylor is capable of because durable Flacco has never missed a start in seven seasons. Taylor didn't throw a single pass in 2014, and he's thrown a grand total of 35 in his four years in Baltimore.

But whatever Taylor has shown in practice, the preseason and behind the scenes has kept him as Flacco's No. 2 for four years.

"Despite challengers along the way, Taylor has fended them off and earned the coaching staff's trust as Flacco's backup," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown. "Taylor has superb mobility, and has always taken a professional approach to his role. That's one reason why he has lasted four years as Flacco's backup.

"It will be interesting to see if the Ravens reach out to Taylor, or let him go elsewhere. The Ravens drafted quarterback Keith Wenning in the sixth round last season, but he spent the entire season on the practice squad, and was clearly not ready to be the No. 2 quarterback."

Did Ravens Miss These 5 Former Players?

Hensley reviewed whether the Ravens missed five of their former players that left Baltimore via free agency last year.

DB Corey Graham: Signed with Bills for four years, $16 million
*Was he missed in Baltimore? *"Without a doubt. This was the loss that impacted the Ravens the most. … The Ravens thought they could get by with Jackson or Brown as their No. 3 cornerback instead of giving a pricey, $4 million-per-season deal to Graham. They were wrong." 

S James Ihedigbo: Signed with Lions for two years, $3.15 million 
Was he missed in Baltimore? "While some Ravens officials would disagree, the Ravens could've used Ihedigbo at safety this season. … Based on the numbers, it wouldn't be a stretch to say the Ravens made the wrong decision in not keeping Ihedigbo for another season." 

DL Arthur Jones: Signed with Colts for 5 years for $33 million
Was he missed in Baltimore? "Not really and that's a credit to the Ravens' drafting on the defensive line." 

LB Jameel McClain: Signed with Giants for two years, $4.5 million 
*Was he missed in Baltimore? * "There was no need for McClain, or any other inside linebacker for that matter. Inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith each played over 96 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps at a high level. McClain would've been a special-teams player for the Ravens in 2014." 

RT Michael Oher : Signed with Titans for four years,  $20 million; cut last week
*Was he missed in Baltimore? * "No. In fact, one of the Ravens' best offseason moves was letting Oher sign elsewhere in free agency and promoting Rick Wagner to starting right tackle. … Wagner was cheaper than Oher, earning $495,000 in 2014 compared to Oher's $6 million in base salary and bonuses. And Wagner played better than Oher." 

Quick Hits

  • Hensley's predicted outcome of the Ngata negotiations: "Ravens keep Ngata. This could go either way, and it's not encouraging that talks about an extension went nowhere last offseason. The Ravens have made it clear that they will seek an extension again this offseason, and it's really up to Ngata to accept it. Ngata is smart enough to know teams aren't going to heavily invest in defensive tackles over the age of 30, especially this offseason. What works in the Ravens' favor is a free-agent class that includes at least five starting interior linemen (all younger than Ngata) who finished in the top 15 in Pro Football Focus' rankings. I'm thinking the Ravens and Ngata can find a common ground on an extension that cuts the defensive tackle's cap number by $5 million and gives him more guaranteed money than he would get elsewhere. While I wouldn't agree with this move after using a second-round pick on Jernigan, this follows the Ravens' trend of giving a third contract to core defensive players (e.g. Suggs and Ray Lewis)."
  • Two UIC students approach women using quotes from the Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch press conferences … and they find success.
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