Free agent snapshot: Dennis Pitta
|01.29.14 at 6:56 pm ET|
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks – with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag – we’ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class – instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin and Emmanuel Sanders. Today, it’s Dennis Pitta:
Position: Tight end
Age: 28 (will turn 29 on June 29)
Weight: 245 pounds
The skinny: Pitta is a big and bulky tight end more in the Rob Gronkowski mold — a good blocker who also has a dependable set of hands. A fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2010, he came along slowly when compared to the other high-level tight ends who were taken in that draft (Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham and Jermaine Gresham), as he played behind veteran Todd Heap and fellow rookie Ed Dickson — he had just one catch in his first year in the league. He ended up catching 40 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. He took it to a new level in 2012, as he finished the regular season with a career-best 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns (not to mention a terrific performance against the Patriots in the AFC title game, part of a late push that saw him finish with eight touchdowns in his final 12 games, including the playoffs.) At that point, it was clear he was establishing himself as Joe Flacco‘s security blanket, but a nasty hip injury in training camp landed him on IR for the first 12 games of the 2013 season. When he returned, he was able to contribute as much as possible, but it was tough to get up to speed so late in the year. He ended 2013 with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown in four games, and heads into the open market as an intriguing prospect.
By the numbers: Per Pro Football Focus, Pitta was in the slot for 79 percent of his snaps in 2013.
Why it would work: The Patriots have been patient when it comes to rehabbing tight ends in the past — witness the Great Gronkowski Watch of 2013, as well as the Jake Ballard Odyssey. So even if Pitta wasn’t quite back to 100 percent, if the Patriots believe in him and his ability to contribute in New England, they would certainly be willing to wait on him. If both are fully healthy, a Pitta-Gronk combo figures to be a tremendous duo.
Why it might not work: There’s the very real chance that the Ravens think so highly of him and his skill set that they hit him with the franchise tag between now and the start if free agency, which would render the whole thing moot.
Quote: “I think those other guys did a good job ‘ Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark ‘ they filled in and they did a really good job, but something you can’t take away is chemistry between a quarterback and a receiver. I think [Joe] Flacco and Pitta, they have that. When he is out there, I think he is targeted more, and I know Flacco probably thinks that if I throw this guy the ball, there’s a good chance he’s going to come down with it.” — Patriots safety Devin McCourty on Pitta last December.
Our take: Despite the yeoman’s work done by Michael Hoomanwanui and Matthew Mulligan when Gronkowski was on the shelf in 2013, it’s clear the Patriots need to add a little oomph to the tight end position. New England does have some options — in addition to Pitta, there are some other interesting names in free agency, including Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley and Scott Chandler. There are also a few high-level tight ends who could be around come draft weekend, including Jace Amaro, an elite pass catcher who apparently has speed to burn and great positional versatility. But if Pitta is available at a reasonable rate, the Patriots would be crazy to not at least kick the tires. The chance to add another 60-catch presence at tight end and weaken a conference rival might be too great a possibility for New England to pass up.