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Dennis Pitta to restructure contract with Ravens, cracking open door for comeback

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta fights past corner back Chris Carr during practice at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta fights past corner back Chris Carr during practice at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. (DAVE MUNCH / Carroll County Times)

It has been 19 months since Dennis Pitta last played in an NFL game and it will take several more months before the Ravens have a better idea about the status of the veteran tight end's latest comeback attempt. Pitta, though, has made it clear to team officials that he wants to give it another try.

Pitta and the Ravens agreed to terms on a restructured contract Tuesday, clearing one of several potential hurdles to him returning to the field in time for the 2016 season. Pitta, who has played just three games over the past two seasons because of a twice fractured and dislocated right hip, signed off on his new contract Tuesday afternoon.

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Neither side would reveal the specifics of the new deal. The 30-year-old will take a significant pay cut from the $5 million base salary that he was due in the third year of a $32.5 million pact, signed in February 2014. However, he will have an opportunity to make some of that money back with incentives.

Pitta, who was unavailable to comment, is expected to join Ravens players for the start of the offseason workout program Monday.

"When Dennis has an announcement to make, he'll make it," a Ravens team spokesman said Tuesday.

Pitta fractured and dislocated his hip for the first time early during training camp in 2013, when he landed awkwardly in the back of the end zone while trying to come down with a Joe Flacco pass. He returned that year in time to play in four games and catch 20 balls for 169 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens felt comfortable enough with his health that they gave him a contract extension.

However, Pitta dislocated and fractured his hip for the second time on a noncontact injury in the Ravens' victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 21, 2014.

He practiced with the Ravens for three weeks last year, but said his hip wasn't responding as well as he hoped and he didn't get full clearance from team doctors to return, so he finished the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Last October, Pitta acknowledged that if he was unable to return during the 2015 season, he wasn't sure what would change the following year. Still, he said the day after the season ended that he was inclined to give it another try, rather than retire.

Pitta has been working out this offseason and informed the Ravens of his desire to return after consulting with his doctors. Tuesday's development keeps the door ajar for a potential comeback, and is proof that the Ravens are willing to give the tight end a little more time. But Pitta has a ways to go before he's considered a viable option for the team in the upcoming season.

Ultimately, team doctors and the Ravens' top decision makers will have to be comfortable with the idea of Pitta returning to the field, and that wasn't the case last season during his brief practice window.

The Ravens, though, can monitor Pitta through the offseason workouts and during the various summer minicamps before they have to make a decision on whether to clear him for full contact in training camp.

If Pitta is able to play in 2016, it would be a nice bonus for a passing game that should be improved with the additions of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Benjamin Watson, and the expected healthy returns of wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman.

In parts of five seasons with the Ravens, Pitta has 138 catches for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns in 50 regular-season games. His breakout came during the 2012 season when he became a favorite target of Flacco, his closest friend on the team. That year, he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season, and added 14 receptions for 163 yards and three touchdowns during the Super Bowl run.

The Ravens, though, seemingly have enough depth at tight end if Pitta doesn't return, even after waiving Chase Ford on Tuesday less than three weeks after he signed his $1.67 million restricted free agent tender.

Crockett Gillmore, the starter at the position last season, is making progress from offseason shoulder surgery and should be ready for the start of training camp. Watson, who is coming off the best season of his career, signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Ravens last month.

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Also at tight end, the Ravens have 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams; Nick Boyle, who is facing a 10-game league suspension to start the 2016 season; converted wide receiver Darren Waller; Konrad Reuland and Harold Spears.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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