Cutting Dennis Pitta likely wouldn't result in immediate cap relief for Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens might release tight end Dennis Pitta over his $5.5 million salary, according to the NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

This doesn't come as a major surprise because it's been assumed the Ravens were going to approach Pitta about taking a pay cut. Pitta, 31, led all tight ends last season with 86 catches, but there is some concern that he lost a step after averaging 8.5 yards per catch (28th among tight ends).

What shouldn't go overlooked is the Ravens will unlikely get immediate salary-cap room from parting ways with Pitta. Baltimore could say goodbye to Joe Flacco's favorite target and then have to wait three months before being able to use the created cap space.

Here is the reason why: It makes no sense to cut Pitta without a June 1 designation because that would free up only $3.3 million in cap space and add on $4.4 million in dead money. If the Ravens designate him as a post-June 1 cut, they would open up $5.5 million in cap room and spread the dead money into two seasons ($2.2 million in 2017 and $2.2 million in 2018). The only problem with that scenario is the Ravens wouldn't then be able to use the additional cap space until after June 1.

So why would the Ravens cut Pitta? Baltimore doesn't want to pay him the sixth-highest base salary for a tight end in 2017. Pitta wasn't much of a factor in the red zone (two touchdowns) or downfield (more than 68 percent of his receptions went for under 10 yards).

Baltimore would probably be open to keeping Pitta at a reduced cost. He agreed to a $4 million pay cut last year ($3 million of which he later recovered in incentives) because he didn't play in 2015 after having two hip surgeries. The questions are whether Pitta would do this again after setting a career high in catches, and what would the Ravens do if Pitta declined a pay reduction.

If Baltimore cuts Pitta, it would show a lot of confidence in an unproven young tight-ends group and possibly signal the return of Benjamin Watson. He is coming off season-ending Achilles injury and was considered a potential cap cut because he represents $3 million in cap savings. Watson, 36, caught a career-best 74 passes and six touchdowns in 2015.

The rest of the Ravens' tight-ends group is filled with young prospects such as Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore and Darren Waller. But all four have a history with injuries and suspensions, which means the Ravens will best served to keep Watson or Pitta. The economics appear to favor Watson, whose $3 million salary is nearly half of Pitta's in 2017.

The Ravens, who currently have the fifth-worst cap space in the league, are expected to make several moves before the start of free agency March 9 in an effort to free up salary and get younger. Among the tougher decisions looming for Baltimore is what the team will do with Pitta.