Among the Ravens' offensive positions, tight end may be the most uncertain.
The Ravens tight ends were supposed to be a major team strength last year before starter Dennis Pitta went down with another fractured and dislocated hip in Week 3.
Veteran Owen Daniels and rookie third-round pick Crockett Gillmore still gave the Ravens a strong duo, but the tight ends didn't carry as much of the offensive load in Gary Kubiak's system as intended.
Here's a look at the tight end corps heading into free agency:
Pitta's Status Uncertain
Pitta suffered a major hip injury for the second straight year, leaving his future in the NFL in doubt. Head Coach John Harbaugh said in mid-January that he was "cautiously optimistic" about Pitta returning to the field, but added that he didn't want to share the results of a recent visit with specialists until Pitta had a chance to think over the ramifications. The best case scenario is that Pitta can return in 2015 as a productive pass catcher and one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite targets. If he doesn't feel confident in his hip being able to hold up to football's rigors, he could retire early after signing a five-year contract last offseason.
Daniels Could Be Gone
Daniels stepped in admirably after Pitta went down last year, catching 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns. But he was working on a one-year contract, making Daniels an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The 32-year-old Daniels said after the season ended that he has a couple more years left in him. He said it was an "honor" to play for the Ravens and hoped he would be back. But with Gary Kubiak now the head coach in Denver, Daniels could follow him once again. Daniels has played his entire career under Kubiak, and came with him to Baltimore when Kubiak was the Ravens offensive coordinator.
What Role Will Gillmore Have?
As the only tight end under contract currently on the roster, could Gillmore become the Ravens' starter? The 6-foot-6 Gillmore claimed all season long that he's a blocker first and receiver second. As the season went on, however, he found himself targeted by more and more passes. Gilmore caught half of his passes in the final five weeks of the season (including the playoffs). He had a game-clinching 21-yard touchdown in Pittsburgh in the divisional round, and a touchdown in Heinz Field earlier during the regular season. He greatly improved his hands from training camp, and is tough to bring down.
While it's flying under the radar, tight end may be one of the Ravens' biggest needs this offseason. Much of that depends on the health of Pitta. But even if Pitta can play, Baltimore may not want to put all their eggs in that basket considering he has suffered season-ending injuries in two consecutive seasons. If Daniels doesn't re-sign the Ravens may be on the hunt for a pass-catching veteran and/or rookie tight end that can immediately help in the short to intermediate passing game.