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Could the franchise tag, if used, be far more expensive than expected for Dennis Pitta?

FootballPro FootballDennis PittaBaltimore RavensNFLTerrell Suggs

An interesting and expensive wrinkle may unfold involving Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta and the cost of a potential franchise tag for him.

Should the Ravens designate Pitta as their franchise player to avoid him becoming an unrestricted free agent, it would ordinarily require assigning him a projected $6.709 million franchise tender for tight ends.

That number would rise significantly, though, if a successful argument is made that Pitta could technically be classified as a wide receiver. The franchise tag for wide receivers is $11.539 million, nearly $5 million more than the tight end franchise number.

The representatives for New Orleans Saints star tight end Jimmy Graham, who, like Pitta, routinely lines up as a receiver and is also a potential candidate for the franchise tag, are expected to challenge how Graham is classified if he's designated with the tight end franchise tender. Of course, that's only expected to happen if they can't reach agreement on a long-term contract.

If Graham was to file a grievance before an NFL special master if he's franchised as a tight end, any ruling would impact how other tight ends in his situation like Pitta are dealt with. That would have a negative potential impact on the Ravens' salary-cap outlook.

In the case of Pitta, in four games after returning from hip surgery, he ran 79.7 percent of his routes out of the slot. That was the highest rate among all NFL tight ends.

Pitta played 111 snaps in the slot, six snaps split out wide, 40 snaps as a traditional tight end and six in the backfield.

A year ago, Pitta played 54 percent of his snaps split out as he lined up 46 percent of the time next to the tackle.

In 2012, Graham also lined up next to the tackle just 28 percent of the time and Jared Cook, then with the Tennessee Titans, lined up outside for 79.4 percent of his snaps.

Cook was exploring a potential challenge if he had been franchised as a tight end, but the Titans wound up not using the tag and allowed him to hit free agency where he signed a five-year, $35.1 million contract with the St. Louis Rams that included $19 million in guaranteed money.

Under the NFL collective bargaining agreement, rules governing franchise tags states they "will apply to the position in which the player participated in the most plays."

The Ravens have prior experience in dealing with these sort of complicated franchise player issues.

In 2008, the year before they signed Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to a $62.5 million contract, the Ravens ultimately reached a compromise on a one-year, $8.5 million franchise tender that recognized Suggs as a hybrid defensive end-linebacker.

Suggs had filed a grievance arguing that he should get the defensive end franchise number based on him playing over half his snaps there.

There was an agreement brokered between the NFL management council and NFL management council on that one, which split the difference between an $8.065 million linebacker franchise tender and an $8.879 million defensive end tender.

Depending on what happens with Graham, this situation could bear watching going forward.

The Ravens can't use the franchise tag until Feb. 17. The deadline is March 3.

The Ravens are hoping to hammer out a long-term deal with Pitta, who made a healthy return from a dislocated, fractured hip suffered in July.

Both sides are motivated, but agreeing on Pitta's value could get complicated even if the franchise tag isn't utilized to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

awilson@baltsun.com
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FootballPro FootballDennis PittaBaltimore RavensNFLTerrell Suggs
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