BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Ed Dickson #84 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Steelers 35-7. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
When the news broke that the Baltimore Ravens had released ten-year veteran tight end Todd Heap, many fans were confused, upset and even angry that one of the most popular players in team history was just released. The combination of his age, salary and the recent drafting of two tight ends made this the right decision in the mind of General Manager Ozzie Newsome. Everyone wondered what would happen with the production out of this very important position on the team?
Wonder no more, Baltimore Ravens fans. While Heap was signed by his hometown Arizona Cardinals, he has been injured much of the season and has only appeared in five games, starting just two, catching 13 balls for 150 yards and no touchdowns. Meanwhile his replacements, second year players Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have combined for 51 receptions for 472 yards and one score. Their 51 catches represent almost a third of QB Joe Flacco's 169 completions in 2011.
The versatility of having one or the other, much less both players on the field at the same time is worlds above the production the team would have gotten out of the aging, yet wildly popular Heap. It was a tough decision for fans to stomach, but has proven to be the correct one by the man known around town as the 'Wizard of Oz.' Dickson is 12th in the NFL in receptions for tight ends in the league and Pitta is tied for 24th. The only team with a combination of tight ends like the Ravens are the New England Patriots pair of Rob Gronkowski (44 catches) and Aaron Hernandez (33 catches).
In 2010, Heap caught 40 passes for 599 yards for the Ravens. In 2009, he recorded 53 receptions for 593 yards. After eight games, both Dickson and Pitta are each on pace to catch more balls and possibly more yardage than Heap did in either year. Heap's best year as a Raven was in 2005 when he caught 75 balls for 855 yards and while it doesn't appear either of the two current Ravens will individually top that output, the combination of their stats should easily surpass that production.
Although we may one day see Todd Heap's name etched on M&T Bank Stadium Raven's Ring of Honor, the decision to cut ties when they did is proving to be not only a genius of a move, but a major part of the improvement of the Ravens success in the passing game.