We've reported that tight end Dennis Pitta has been on the practice field running around as of late. We've also covered his original injury before and that even with a clean bill of health, Pitta will have to overcome the mental hurdles that follow such a devastating injury. However, no one has really begun to speculate on what will happen to Pitta this season, so we will.
Emergence of other tight ends is crucial
The Ravens drafted two tight ends in the 2015 NFL Draft and make no mistake about it, that was a plan that the Ravens had all along. General manager Ozzie Newsome said before the draft that the Ravens would look to add at least one more tight end to the mix. Whether it was eventual draft pick Maxx Williams (second round) or a free agent or trade (we hypothesized about Martellus Bennett before), the Ravens simply had to add more members to the depth chart with the uncertainty following Pitta.
Even though the Ravens drafted Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle (fifth round) to compete with Crockett Gillmore, a lot of what the Ravens will choose to do with Pitta will revolve around one or more of these tight ends showing something in the passing game.
Maxx Williams is the likely candidate because of his pedigree, the combine stats and his film coming into the draft. Though ultimately, the Ravens just need one of the team's tight ends to be a threat in the seem and in the flat in order to achieve what they typically like to do with their tight ends in the passing game. In the running game, the Ravens have more options with Boyle and Gillmore bringing more of that to their game than Williams has to date. Not to mention that the Ravens can always push Kyle Juszchyk over to tight end as a blocker or add in an extra tackle as a tight end to fill that spot if necessary.
Pitta's mental health is equally important to his physical health
The hip is one of the more complex and difficult areas of the body to come back from injury. Doing it once was a little surprising, but doing it twice will be even more so. Yet, with Pitta running around already, it looks like he might just be ready to jump that hurdle come training camp. Harbaugh has commented that Pitta's hip seems to suffer no ill effects from either of the injuries.
With previous generations, the mental and physical hurdle was large to overcome for knee injuries. With advances in science, players have gotten over the idea that strength and stability doesn't quite return and we've seen players make some miraculous recoveries from those types of injuries. However, injuries to the hip are far less common and therefore contain that same mental break that Pitta will have to overcome.
Pitta's first injury was career threatening and the second one looked even worse since there was no contact. The Ravens are vocally supporting their player but even with that support, Pitta has to be questioning if his body can continue with the game he loves so much.
With everything surrounding Pitta so uncertain right now, the Ravens would love to buy more time for him to recover physically, mentally and get more in tune with what the new offense is going to bring. Rushing him back might cause Pitta to get into his own head far too much and will keep him from fully returning to 100% for the remainder of his career. Yet, the Ravens do need to have a tight end mismatch for their offense to function like they want it to.
Realistically, I think the Ravens would love to put Pitta on the Reserve/Injured list where they can stash him on the roster until the second half of the season. If Pitta can get an additional few weeks of rehab and knowing that his hip is sound, he might be able to return fully immediately for Baltimore. But as we've mentioned, the Ravens will need the pass catching emergence of one of their other tight ends to fill the gap. From there, the Ravens will be able to have two primed tight ends going into the second half of the season and the playoffs; something that could seriously benefit them when defenses are beginning to wear down.
Sadly, if Pitta is unable to get back to normal either in the physical sense or in the mental one, the Ravens will have little option for him. They signed him to a 5 year, $32 million deal with $16 million guaranteed at the end of the 2013 season. That has the Ravens locked into Pitta for the remainder of the 2015 season as cutting him would count as $6.6 million more against the cap than his current cap hit is. Next season is when the Ravens could realistically waive Pitta as they would save a paltry $600,000 over his cap hit.
This could mark Pitta's last season as a Raven unless he can come back completely. Now it is just up to the Ravens organization and his fellow tight ends to help him out a bit so he has the best chance of returning completely.