Ravens know they need a tight end, and they'll get one

The Ravens, especially Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome, understand the importance of having a strong tight end in the West Coast offense they run.

The Ravens are nearly a month into free agency and haven't signed a tight end, a position integral to their West Coast offense. But Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe says it is only a matter of time.

It's not a matter of who, or even when.


"Oh, Oz [general manager Ozzie Newsome] is going to get a tight end," said Sharpe, the Ravens' starting tight end when they won the Super Bowl in 2001. "If there was one person I was going to let pick my team, it would be Oz.

"He knows the value of a tight end. It might be a guy that you go, 'huh, who is that guy?' Then he is going to end up with 50 or 60 catches. Even if he has to find one in the draft, they're a going to get a tight end."


Both Newsome and Sharpe realize the value of a tight end, and not simply because both played the position and are in the NFL Hall of Fame. Take a look around the league, and tight ends like New England's Rob Gronkowski and Seattle's Jimmy Graham [formerly of New Orleans] are dominant factors in their offenses.

Everyone seems to have a dominant tight end. There is Jason Witten in Dallas and Jordan Cameron in Miami. Shoot, Antonio Gates is still getting it done in San Diego.

A tight end has been a major staple of the West Coast offense dating back to its conception under Bill Walsh when he was an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 1960s.

"You got to have one," said Sharpe, who starred in Denver's West Coast offense with quarterback John Elway in the 1990s. "Bill Walsh knew that if you had a tight end that could get deep and work the middle of the field, then it opened up the entire field and allowed the receivers on the edge to make plays."

According to Sharpe, there has been an evolution at the position from the early days when the tight end was primarily a blocker. Few teams these days draft those big, bulky tight ends like former New York Giant Mark Bavaro.

Teams want the sleekish guys. Newsome started the trend when he was with the Cleveland Browns in the late 1970s. He was a former wide receiver at Alabama who converted to tight end in the NFL.

So was Sharpe, who played wide receiver at Savannah State. His older brother, Sterling, a star receiver with the Green Bay Packers, had warned him that if he kept lifting weights, he would one day wind up with his hand in the dirt.

"He was right," said Shannon Sharpe, laughing. "But in Denver, I could split wide or play in the slot. I was too physical for a cornerback and too big for a safety. I could run by any linebacker. You see those types of mismatches all the time now with Gronk and Graham.


"You know you have arrived, especially as a tight end, when they send an Aqib Talib or a Richard Sherman or a Darrelle Revis to come over and cover you. When you are a team which invest $20 million a year in a quarterback, they now have to invest $15 million in a tight end and $10 million in a receiver."

Well, the Ravens have that in quarterback Joe Flacco, but no tight end. Last year's starter, Owen Daniels (48 catches, 527 yards and four touchdowns) has signed with Denver and Dennis Pitta, once thought of as a rising star, might not be able to get back on the field after a second straight year with a devastating hip injury.

The Ravens have a void to fill, possibly two. A year ago, then-offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak liked the two tight end look in the West Coast offense because it gave him the ability to muscle up and run the ball.

The curtain is still down on Marc Trestman's offense. He was hired in January to replace Kubiak.

"Kube's wanted to run the ball because that made his passing game more effective," Sharpe said. "He had a tight end at the line of scrimmage that could physically get it done and once the defense drew up, that left the other tight end in man coverage with a safety or linebacker. I'm not sure what Trestman will do, but the offenses are similar."

The Ravens have the No. 26 overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft and many experts have said the tight end position isn't very deep, so the team might opt for Minnesota's Maxx Williams in the first round. Two others that might be on the Ravens' list are Miami's Clive Walford or Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman.


Regardless, the Ravens need one, especially in the West Coast offense.

"Hey, you can't put your eggs in that basket after two years with injury," said Sharpe, speaking about Pitta. "I think Joe will be fine in this offense because it's basically the same, but the Ravens have to find him a tight end.

"And, knowing Oz the way I do, he will. I have no doubt."