Now the owner of a five-year, $32 million contract, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta didn't have any grand plans for his financial windfall. He did know that he wasn't prepared to let his best friend on the team, quarterback Joe Flacco, off the hook just yet.
"I didn't get Joe Flacco money, so he'll still be paying for dinners," Pitta said.
Pitta also joked that he had no plans to stop at McDonald's, which was Flacco's first stop after he signed his historic six-year, $120.6 million contract extension last March. Pitta's deal includes $16 million guaranteed and an $11 million signing bonus.
The 28-year-old tight end, who dealt with a career-threatening hip injury last year, admitted that it's nice to have some security for his family. However, he said that his pending free agent status and perhaps an even bigger contract took a backseat to his desire to remain with the Ravens, the team that drafted him and helped him develop into one of the better tight ends in the league.
"You never know with free agency what's going to happen. It's tough to predict how this business is going to go but I knew I wanted to be here," said Pitta, who signed his contract on Wednesday and then spoke to reporters at the team facility. "That was a priority of mine. In speaking with my representatives and the team, that was something that I stressed. Whatever we have to do to get it done where I can play in a Baltimore Raven uniform next year was a priority for me. Fortunately, we were able to get it done."
Speaking six days before free agency is set to open, Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the team's salary cap space, which is just under $25 million after the Pitta deal, will allow them to be aggressive on the open market. However, the front office's focus remains on rewarding its own players, and Pitta emerged as a priority for a contract extension since the start of the offseason.
The importance of the tight end to the Ravens' offense was never more glaring than it was this past season when Pitta was sidelined for all but four games after he fractured and dislocated his right hip in training camp. Flacco had the most disappointing season of his career and the Ravens struggled on both third down and in the red zone, areas where Pitta has prospered.
"We didn't have to go through the season to understand how valuable and what a good player Dennis has been," Harbaugh said. "He's been that way really since he got here. So, it was a big blow to us. Obviously, we worked hard to try to overcome it, but it's hard to replace a great player at a position in training camp like that."
Pitta returned to the Ravens in December and caught 20 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. He said that he didn't have any pain in his hip, but he admitted that he lacked the strength and explosiveness to be as effective as he wanted to be.
However, he now has a full offseason to prepare, his contract out of the way and he's excited to play in new coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense, which has relied heavily on the tight end spot in the past.
"There were a few weeks after my surgery when I didn't know if I would play football again, which is a tough pill to swallow," Pitta said. "Fortunately, that wasn't the case … and I was able to get back out there. You do a lot of thinking, you do a lot of contemplating when you are in a situation where this might be my final time ever being on the field. So, it was tough, but like I said, to be able to sit here now and have an opportunity to be on the field and be with this team for a few more years to come, it's a blessing, and I feel so fortunate to be sitting here."
NOTES: Pitta said that Flacco has discussed organizing some informal throwing sessions with his receivers prior to April 21 when the offseason program begins. ... Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens remain in active contract talks with several of their free agents and the team has "aggressive offers" out to several players. "They're working very hard at it, and hopefully something will happen here before Tuesday," Harbaugh said. Left tackle Eugene Monroe and middle linebacker Daryl Smith remain priorities, though the Ravens are far apart in negotiations with Monroe and barring a major change, he'll test free agency, according to sources. … Weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain, who the Ravens cut last week, visited the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday and is scheduled to visit the New York Giants next.
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.