In 2014, the Ravens signed Dennis Pitta to a 5-year $32 million dollar contract. This contract was offered to Pitta after he returned from a fractured and dislocated hip to play in the final four games of the 2013 season. After playing in the first three games after signing the big contract, Pitta dislocated the hip again and has not played in any of the Ravens 30 regular season or post season games since. The Ravens opted to use a backloaded contract structure which sets Pitta 2016 cap hit at $7.2 million with $6.6 million in dead money.
With Pitta's future uncertain, the Ravens drafted Crockett Gillmore in the third round, #99 overall pick in the 2014 draft. They also drafted H-back Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, his position is best described as a hybrid between fullback and tight end. Veteran tight end Owen Daniels also played for the Ravens in 2014 on a 1-year, $1 million contract. Daniels followed Gary Kubiak to Denver following the 2014 season so the Ravens addressed the tight end position again in the 2015 draft.
During the 2015 draft, the Ravens traded up in the second round to draft the top tight end in the draft class, Maxx Williams. Maxx was selected with the #55 overall pick and the trade also cost the Ravens a fifth round pick, #158 overall. Then the Ravens drafted tight end Nick Boyle with their other fifth round draft pick, #171 overall.
Boyle is suspended for the first ten games of the 2016 season due to a second positive test for performance enhancing drugs. Gillmore ended the 2015 season on injured reserve with a back injury and recently underwent offseason surgery to repair labrum tears in both shoulders. With the depth chart growing thin at tight end, the Ravens also tendered free agent tight end Chase Ford on Tuesday, his contract is worth $1.7 million but is not guaranteed.
News broke Tuesday afternoon that the Ravens have come to terms with veteran tight end Benjamin Watson on a 2-year $7 million contract. The is the first time the Ravens have reached an agreement with another team's free agent in the four year history of the pre free agency negotiating period.
It has been reported that the Ravens are extremely high on Watson and it is likely that his contract his team friendly. However, an estimated $4 million per season for a 35 year old player who has eclipsed 50 receptions twice in 13 seasons. Watson posted 825 receiving yards in the pass centric Saints offense last season, yet a full third of this yardage was accumulated in two outlier games at the SuperDome. Nevertheless, general manager Ozzie Newsome has earned the benefit of the doubt from Ravens fans over the years.
In total, the Ravens have invested approximately $13 million in 2016 cap space, along with a recent draft pick in the second round, third round and two fifth rounders. These assets represent a sizable investment for a franchise which currently has the least cap space in the entire NFL and has multiple needs at other prominent positions.
With this level of investment, Ravens fans should hope Watson, Williams, Gillmore and Boyle can approach the production generated by Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez circa 2012 at the tight end position throughout the coming season.