Injury concerns have seemingly put the Baltimore Ravens' tight end position in limbo.
The Ravens are still unsure whether Dennis Pitta plans to return for the 2015 season after hip surgeries in consecutive years, and they don't know when two potential free-agent targets (Jermaine Gresham and Zach Miller) will get on the field this offseason. All that's certain is the Ravens need to add experience at tight end after Owen Daniels left for the Denver Broncos in free agency.
Miller could be this year's version of Daniels, a veteran who comes on a one-year deal after injuries forced him to miss most of the previous season. A cap casualty of the Seattle Seahawks, Miller is four months removed from his second ankle surgery in less than a year. There's a chance he could ready for training camp at the end of July. Miller, 29, caught 33 passes and scored five touchdowns in 2013.
Gresham, 26, is the top available free-agent tight end, but he had surgery for a herniated disc in his back in the middle of March. This could sideline him until the start of training camp. In five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Gresham averaged 56 catches and nearly five touchdowns per season while going to two Pro Bowls (2011 and 2012). If he is signed after June 1, he wouldn't count against the Ravens' compensatory pick formula.
The only healthy tight ends returning from last year's team for the Ravens are Crockett Gillmore and Phillip Supernaw, who have a combined one start in the NFL. Gillmore had a solid rookie season, but he doesn't have the quickness or suddenness to get separation on a consistent basis.
The Ravens have been linked to Minnesota's Maxx Williams, the consensus top tight end in this year's NFL draft. But the Ravens might be more inclined to address wide receiver or cornerback in the first round, and Williams probably won't drop to the Ravens at the bottom of the second round. The lack of impact tight ends in the draft has placed more of an emphasis on signing a veteran free agent.
The tight end position wasn't supposed to have this void. It was only a year ago when the Ravens signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed. But Pitta's 2015 season and career are in doubt after hip surgeries in consecutive years.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh couldn't provide any update on the status of Pitta.
"I think we’ll know more in the summer, hopefully," Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings last week. "In the end, it’s going to be up to Dennis."
There is no urgency because Pitta's $4 million salary in 2015 is guaranteed, so the Ravens aren't going to cut him. He'll either be placed on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve if he decides not to play this season.
At this point, the Ravens have to proceed as if Pitta isn't going to play again. But injuries to the top free-agent tight ends have put the Ravens' plans on hold.