Just seven months ago, Dennis Pitta was carted off the Ravens' practice field after suffering a fractured, dislocated right hip that required surgery.
On Friday, Pitta agreed to five-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed, according to league sources, following a successful recovery in which he proved his hip was structurally sound and that he had regained his old pass-catching form. Pitta will make $21 million during the first three years of the deal, according to sources.
The Ravens confirmed the agreement and scheduled a press conference for Monday at their training complex. Pitta plans to travel to Baltimore this weekend to sign his contract.
"I could not be more excited to remain a Baltimore Raven," Pitta said in a statement. "There is no better organization or fan base in sports. To be given the opportunity to continue my career here is incredible. This organization drafted me and has always stood by me, especially during my difficult recovery last season, and for that, I am extremely grateful."
By locking up Pitta, the Ravens avoided having to navigate through a potentially difficult financial situation involving the franchise tag.
If the Ravens had designated Pitta their franchise player by a Monday afternoon NFL deadline to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, it might have cost them more than the $7.035 million franchise tender for a tight end.
If Pitta had been tagged as a tight end, sources predicted he would have filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association arguing that he should be designated under the $12.312 million wide receiver tag, because he played over 70 percent of his snaps split out as a receiver last season.
The contract ensures that one of quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite targets and closest friends will remain under contract through the 2018 season.
The Ravens will now make left offensive tackle Eugene Monroe their highest negotiating priority, but no deal is imminent, according to sources. Monroe, 26, could wind up being even more expensive than Pitta. At this point, the Ravens aren't expected to use the franchise tag on Monroe, which would cost the team $11.654 million.
Pitta's value appeared to increase while he was sidelined for the first dozen games of the regular season. He caught 20 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown in December after being activated from the injured reserve-designated to return list.
"Dennis creates a number of mismatch problems for defenses. He makes it tough on them, and because of that, he really helps out our wide receivers," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "Opponents have to always pay attention to where he lines up and where his routes take him. Dennis is also a big target with very good hands, and his presence in the red zone is very important to us."
Pitta, 28, caught a career-high 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns during the 2012 season. He was particularly effective during that postseason, catching 14 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns in four playoff games as the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII.
The 2010 fourth-round draft pick from Brigham Young has caught 122 passes for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career. In six playoff games, Pitta has 21 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns.
"It was obvious when Dennis was out last year that we really missed him," coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. "We all admire how he fought back from the hip injury and helped us down the stretch. Having Dennis as a part of the Ravens now and in the future is exciting news for us.
"Dennis has a large catch radius and can snatch the ball in traffic. Not only is he a reliable player, but he is an outstanding person as well. Having a weapon like Dennis makes everyone on our offense better."
The Ravens have told middle linebacker Daryl Smith, their leading tackler last season, that he's a priority for them to re-sign, yet the parties aren't on the verge of striking a deal, according to a source. Smith's one-year, $2.125 million contract has expired following a season in which he had 123 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. … The NFL Players Association announced a salary-cap limit of $133 million for the 2014 fiscal year. The Ravens were roughly $26 million under the NFL salary cap limit prior to the Pitta contract.