As Dennis Pitta Works Out, A New Idea For Insurance Emerges
The Ravens kicked off their voluntary offseason workout program Monday, and it wasn't earth-shattering to see tight end Dennis Pitta participate. His presence makes sense as he continues to rehab his second hip fracture in as many years.
Pitta has been a staple at the Under Armour Performance Center during the offseason, but Monday marked the first time media and fans got a peek with the video above, making it more exciting.
But it does little to clear up his status for this season.
"It's unknown how much Pitta participated, but it appeared he did some work in the weight room," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "This doesn't come as a major surprise because Pitta was around the Ravens' facility last year after hip surgery sidelined him for a second consecutive season."
Ravens brass is holding out hope that Pitta, one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite targets,*will return, but said they won't know if he can until later this summer. His contract is guaranteed for this season (reportedly $4 million), *so there is no reason for him to rush back.
In the meantime, the Ravens would still like to add reinforcements to the tight ends corps. General Manager Ozzie Newsome emphasized in February that the Ravens offense is "tight-end friendly" and he wants more of them. Newsome has yet to do so, but the first move could come in less than two weeks as the 2015 NFL Draft gets underway.
Hensley also suggested another idea for Pitta insurance.
With the tight end free agent market thin, Hensley told fans in a mailbag piece on ESPN.com Saturday that the Ravens could make a trade for a veteran. He floated out two names that "make the most sense" in the Detroit Lions' Brandon Pettigrew and Jacksonville Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis.
"Neither Pettigrew (10 catches last season) nor Lewis (18 catches) offer much in the passing game these days," Hensley wrote. "But both would bring much-needed experience to a Ravens tight end group that currently has one combined NFL start. The Ravens really need to add a pass-catching tight end in the draft and a veteran either through trade or free agency."
Lewis reportedly restructured his contract with the Jaguars over the weekend, and while his new deal could make him more attractive on the trade market, a source told The Florida Times-Union "he will likely remain with the Jaguars this year despite the addition of Julius Thomas."
Regardless, Pettigrew seems like the better option for Baltimore, says Hensley.
"Pettigrew makes the most sense because the Ravens liked him in the 2009 draft, and he has an affordable $2.8 million salary in 2015," he wrote. "I'm just not sure if the Lions are willing to part ways with Pettigrew because Eric Ebron didn't live up to first-round expectations last season."
Other trade partners could emerge during the draft, depending on which teams select top tight end prospects in Minnesota's Maxx Williams or Miami's Clive Walford.
And if a trade doesn't materialize, perhaps the best remaining veteran option on the market is Zack Miller, who is a cap casualty out of Seattle with a "failed physical" designation. He missed the majority of the 2014 season with his second ankle surgery in less than a year.
Kamar Aiken, Joe Flacco Clicking
Wide receiver Kamar Aiken signed his exclusive rights tender yesterday, keeping him in Baltimore for 2015 following the best year of his career last season.
Prior to coming to Baltimore and hooking up with Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco, Aiken had been an NFL journeyman, landing with four different teams in as many years. When he got to Baltimore, he "gradually earned the trust" of Flacco and by the end of the year the two were "clicking," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson.
"I think he was able to gain more confidence in me," Aiken told Wilson. "Of course, I always had confidence in him. For quarterbacks, it takes a while to get used to how you run and your personality with the routes.
"As the season went on, we got more comfortable with each other and what he expects from me as far as how to run certain routes. We got more in sync with each other."
Despite being behind a plethora of receivers on the depth chart with Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith, Aiken carved out a role for himself and finished the season with a career-high 24 receptions for 267 yards and three touchdowns.
With Torrey Smith departing for the San Francisco 49ers and Steve Smith turning 36 next month, there is an opportunity for Aiken to prove his worth even more. He will compete for a starting role with Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro and a* *potential draft selection.
"Everybody wants to be a starter," Aiken said. "That comes with the territory. I try not to set statistical goals because it kind of limits yourself. I take the approach of embracing the moment and always trying to do my best.
"I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity. Last year put me in a good situation. They didn't ask me to do too much or put me in tough situations where I had to make a great play. They put me in situations where I was able to win and be successful. I want to build off of that and take the momentum and run with it. You want to build on last year and pass all the numbers I did last year."
Flacco No. 36 In NFLPA Jersey Sales
Flacco was the lone Raven to make the NFL Players Association's top 50 list for jersey sales for the past year, coming in at No. 36.
He dropped one spot from last year's list (which were the 2013 jersey sales), and 14 other quarterbacks came ahead of him:
Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Aaron Rodgers, Johnny Manziel, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo,* *Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill.
"This end result is somewhat bizarre, given that Dick's Sporting Goods' own metrics had Flacco as the eighth-highest jersey seller in the NFL for the 2014 season, and ranked fifth among quarterbacks," wrote The Sun's Jon Meoli. "It appears many of the new Flacco jerseys are coming from there."
Grading Ravens 2010 Draft
Hensley gave Ravens brass an overall C-minus for their 2010 draft, the year they traded out of the first round and selected linebacker Sergio Kindle with their top pick. Here are the seven selections that year:
Second round: OLB Sergio Kindle
Second round: NT Terrence Cody
Third round: TE Ed Dickson
Fourth round: TE Dennis Pitta
Fifth round: WR David Reed
Fifth round: DL Arthur Jones
Sixth round: OL Ramon Harewood
While Pitta is the only player remaining with the Ravens and the top two picks didn't pan out, Hensley points out that draft was actually better than what initially meets the eye.
"What often goes overlooked is that the Ravens used their third- and fourth-round picks to acquire wide receiver Anquan Boldin," wrote Hensley. "The Ravens then traded out of the first round and received three picks (ones in the second, third and fourth rounds) from Denver so the Broncos could trade quarterback Tim Tebow. One of those picks was used on Pitta.
"Would the Ravens win the Super Bowl in 2012 without Boldin and Pitta? The chances of the Ravens doing so would've been greatly reduced. The same could be said about defensive tackle Arthur Jones, a fifth-round pick in 2010 who made some big plays during the championship run."
Trouble In Pittsburgh?
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown chose not to participate in the start of Pittsburgh's voluntary offseason program. He won't attend any part of the program and is mulling over a holdout from mandatory minicamp and training camp, according to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports.
That tweet is a little dramatic for my taste, but the Steelers may have to find a way to make their star receiver happy. Brown reportedly signed a six-year, $43 million deal in the summer of 2012, and he has outperformed that contract. He led the NFL in both receptions (129) and receiving yards (1,698) last season, and at age 26, he is entering the prime years of his career.
"This has already been a tumultuous offseason for the Steelers, with Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retiring, and former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau joining the Titans as an assistant head coach," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown.
"For the Steelers, not having Brown for voluntary workouts is not a big deal. But if Brown and the Steelers can't reach a compromise over the next few months, one of the team's biggest weapons could be an unhappy camper in late July. Perhaps so unhappy he does [not] report to camp."