Ravens' position analysis: Tight ends

For the next two weeks, let's a take a position-by-position review of the Baltimore Ravens' 2013 season and give a sneak peek of what lies ahead:


Under contract (2014 salary-cap number): Matt Furstenberg (future-reserve contract), Nathan Overbay (future-reserve).

2014 free agents: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark.

The good: Pitta was able to return to the field only five months after having hip surgery. That falls in the "remarkable" category. Pitta made an immediate impact in his first start with six catches for 48 yards, including a touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal. Clark had a strong game in the season opener with seven catches for 87 yards, both of which ended up being season highs for him. Clark's 1-yard touchdown catch in Pittsburgh tied the game with 1:58 remaining, but the Ravens ended up losing that game.

The bad: Dickson dropped a lot of passes early, and Joe Flacco never had any trust in him after that. This is probably Dickson's final season with the Ravens. Clark had two or fewer catches in half of the 12 games that he played, and he looked like a player who had nothing left in the second half of the season. If not for the major struggles on the offensive line and in the backfield, this would've been the weakest position on the team.

The money: The Ravens know they have to keep Pitta. It's just a matter of whether it's a long-term deal or the franchise tag. Because Pitta splits out so often, he may try to get classified as a wide receiver. The franchise tag for tight ends is projected to be $6.7 million, and it's expected to be $11.5 million for wide receivers. In free agency, Pitta is expected to command a deal that averages $4 million to $5 million per season.

Draft priority: Moderate. The Ravens are going to need to draft a tight end at some point because there are no experienced tight ends under contract. This led Mel Kiper Jr. to link North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron to the Ravens in the first round. From my perspective, there are only two reasons why the Ravens draft a tight end in the first round: they don't believe they can sign Pitta long term or the prospect is ranked so high on the board they can't pass on him.