I don't think there is any doubt that the Baltimore Ravens will use the franchise tag on Dennis Pitta if they can't reach a deal in six days. The only question is how much Pitta should get paid under the tag.
Just like Jimmy Graham in New Orleans, Pitta is expected to argue that he should be compensated like a wide receiver even though his official position is tight end. This is a $5 million battle. The tag for a tight end is worth $6.8 million while wide receivers are worth $11.6 million.
From my perspective, Pitta is a tight end and should be paid like one. I understand that Pitta lined up in the slot on 79.7 percent of his routes this past season, the highest of any tight end in the league. But this shouldn't be determined by percentages, and this shouldn't be complicated. As my colleague Paul Kuharsky once said, it should come down to what meeting room you're in. If Pitta attends the tight end meetings, that's his position. It's quite simple.
If you need further convincing, Pitta was drafted as a tight end. He is introduced on game days as a tight end. He is on the Pro Bowl ballot as a tight end. And Pitta runs routes like tight ends and not like Torrey Smith or Jacoby Jones.
The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston agrees that Pitta should get a tight end's paycheck. He suggests the Ravens make the point that Pitta would line up like a traditional tight end more if he was a better blocker.
How will this issue get resolved? I wouldn't be surprised if there was a compromise because there is a precedent. In 2008, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs filed a grievance, saying he should get tagged as a defensive end instead of an outside linebacker. The sides agreed to meet in the middle on a hybrid defensive end-linebacker designation before it reached arbitration. This could be the same result with Pitta. If there is a tight end-wide receiver tag, it would cost $9.2 million.
The Ravens and Pitta can avoid all of this gray area if they reach a long-term deal. The NFL Network reported Monday that the sides are making progress on a new contract, but a deal isn't imminent. The Ravens aren't going to let Pitta reach free agency. They just don't know how much it will cost them to do so.