Pitta can put on a suit and bring his family to the Under Armour Performance Center, where he’ll be feted for his productive seven-year career and the starring role he had in the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII triumph.
Two weeks after fracturing and dislocating his right hip for the third time and eight days after his release from the only professional team he has ever played for, Pitta decided Thursday was simply not the time to make such a significant announcement about his future. However, the tight end made it known that he’s at peace with the likelihood that he has played his last NFL game and he’ll be forced into retirement.
“I’ve dislocated my hip three times. Take it for what it is. I’m not delusional,” Pitta said. “I know and kind of understand what that means. At the same time, I’m just taking it one day at a time and trying to get back healthy. That’s all that really matters.”
In a talk with reporters after the final day of the Ravens’ mandatory minicamp, and with owner Steve Bisciotti and coach John Harbaugh looking on, Pitta was relatively upbeat and not particularly sentimental. He joked that his initial response to being asked to talk to reporters was, “I don’t even work here.”
The Ravens released the 31-year-old with an injury waiver on June 7, but the team asked Pitta to return to the facility this week. Pitta, who is on crutches, watched Wednesday’s practice from Bisciotti’s golf cart and then caught up with several teammates afterward.
“Just over a week ago, I was out here practicing and feeling really good. Things change in an instant. I’m positive and staying in a good mind frame,” Pitta said. “The organization has been tremendous obviously and welcomed me back and allowed me to come watch practice and hang out and be a part of things. I can’t say enough good things about all that this organization has done for me and everything they’ve given me and my family, and the opportunities they’ve provided me.”
When he made his comeback from a second hip dislocation and fracture — he played in seven total games in 2013 and 2014 and missed the entire 2015 season — Pitta acknowledged that it almost certainly would be his last try at it. He understood that he’d ultimately have to get his right hip replaced later in his life, so he was willing to take the risk that came with playing again.
Not only did Pitta appear in all 16 games in 2016, but he led the team and all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions to go with 729 receiving yards and two touchdowns. With several other Ravens tight ends dealing with injuries, Pitta was expected to be a significant part of the team’s passing game in 2017. However, he was hurt while lunging for a pass from Joe Flacco at an organized team activity on June 2.
Asked if the injury provided a déjà vu moment, Pitta instead described it as a nightmare.
“I felt great and felt like I could play at a high level again. There wasn’t any indication that my hip would give out again. It felt great,” he said. “I remember telling my wife just a couple of days before it happened that I felt better than I ever have. I felt that I was running well and moving well. I made the decision to come back last year. I wasn’t going to reassess that this year feeling as good as I did.”
Pitta, who was hospitalized for several days after the injury, said he had surgery about a week ago, although he didn’t provide details of what that entailed and what that means for his career or quality of life.
“I haven’t put a lot of thought into what my future holds or what’s going to happen,” Pitta said. “I’m just trying to focus on my rehab at this point, but I feel pretty good. Surgery went well. Feeling pretty good and hopeful that I can make a full recovery.”
Harbaugh called it “an honor and a privilege” to coach Pitta. A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Pitta played in 66 regular-season games for the Ravens and had 224 catches for 2,098 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was at his best during the team’s Super Bowl run after the 2012 regular season, catching 14 balls for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the four postseason games. That included a touchdown in the team’s 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
“To be around him every day, to compete, to know his family and be friends, [he’s] just a great guy, a great Raven,” Harbaugh said. “I am very proud of everything he has done here.”
Longtime teammate Terrell Suggs called Pitta reinjuring his hip “heartbreaking.” The loquacious linebacker has repeatedly called Pitta his favorite player on the team.
“He understands it. I understand it. It’s part of the game,” Suggs said. “Some of these guys look and say, ‘Dang Sizz, 15 years?’ You know, some people don’t have that long. That’s definitely something to be fortunate about. But I talked to him and he’s in good spirits about it. It’s just one of those things. We play a very brutal sport, and sometimes it claims us all.”
Pitta certainly understood the risk. People who dislocate their hips are more susceptible to having it happen again. He fractured and dislocated his hip for the first time in the first full-squad practice of 2013 training camp as he came down awkwardly in the back of the end zone while trying to make a catch.
It happened again in Week 3 of the 2014 season when Pitta went down without being touched in a game against the Cleveland Browns. It appeared that the second instance would end his career. However, Pitta surprised many by making it back and being a productive player last year.
Now, he’s sidelined again, and Pitta didn’t dissuade anybody Thursday from the perception that it’s for good.
“I think mentally it will be easier [to step away], just because there would have been a lot of doubt in my mind had I not come back and played last year feeling as good as I did,” Pitta said. “It will be easier to make that decision this time around when that time comes.”