Schmuck: Next time Ravens fans see Dennis Pitta on a field could be to join Ring of Honor
Even though he was on crutches, former Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta managed to dance around the inevitable retirement question during a brief session with reporters Thursday at the Under Armour Performance Center.
He just wouldn't come right out and say that his impressive NFL career is over after a third hip dislocation and surgery, though it almost certainly is. Presumably, he just wanted to save the actual announcement for a more formal setting, which would make perfect sense.
Pitta deserves a proper sendoff, so the next time anyone should want to see him on the field is when the Ravens induct him into the team's Ring of Honor.
Of course, that isn't a slam-dunk. Pitta spent seven seasons with the Ravens, but the repeated hip injuries limited him to less than half that time as Joe Flacco's go-to tight end. No one could make the case that he's a Hall of Fame player — he never made the Pro Bowl nor was he named All-Pro — but there's a lot about his story that makes the big Ring at M&T Bank Stadium seem appropriate.
Pitta had a breakout season in 2012 and came up huge in the playoffs, catching 14 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns, including a second-quarter touchdown in the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
He came back against all odds after his second hip injury and played in all 16 games last season, leading NFL tight ends with 86 receptions. If ever there was a real-life example of the team's "Play Like a Raven" philosophy, Pitta certainly was that personification on the way to 729 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season.
But the most important reason why he has a chance to transcend any reservations about his longevity and career statistics to be recognized as one of the all-time great Ravens is pretty simple. He has long been a favorite of owner Steve Bisciotti, which was obvious Wednesday as Pitta watched minicamp practice from the owner's golf cart and Thursday when Bisciotti attended his podium session.
If you recall, Bisciotti liked Pitta so much that he approved a five-year, $32 million contract to keep him out of free agency in early 2014, even though the tight end had missed most of the 2013 season because of his first hip dislocation.
There are no set statistical standards for the Ring of Honor. The inductees are chosen by the organization based on their contributions to the team, which means they are — ultimately — chosen by Bisciotti.
It's certainly fair to point out that there are several former Ravens who have glossier statistical resumes and received greater recognition at Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection time. Receiver Derrick Mason, for instance, had four 1,000-yard receiving seasons during his six years in Baltimore. Cornerback Chris McAlister spent 10 seasons with the Ravens and ranks third on the team's career interceptions list behind Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
Mason is deserving, but his most productive years and all his postseason honors came with the Tennessee Titans. McAlister was a top-five player at his position during the 2000s, but his rocky ending with the team alienated a lot of people in the organization.
Pitta isn't going to be on any all-time lists because his career has been shortened so sadly and dramatically. But when he was healthy, he was one of the most dependable tight ends in the NFL and if he had stayed healthy, it's easy to project him putting up career numbers approaching those of Todd Heap, who was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2014.
Everything in it's time. The next man up for the Ring of Honor probably will be former head coach Brian Billick, who led the Ravens to prominence and their first Super Bowl title in 2001.
Despite his refusal to say the "R" word Thursday, Pitta won't be adding to those numbers.
There are those of us who openly wished that he would retire before the 2016 season for the good of his long-term health. But he didn't want his career to end with him spending most of his last three seasons on injured reserve.
"I'll certainly feel satisfaction when I look back at that year and know all that I overcame and all that I was able to accomplish," Pitta said Thursday. "As a team, we fell short of a lot of our goals, which was disappointing. But for me personally, I'll look back on that year and understand it was something special and something that I was able to personally overcome a lot of adversity."
Indeed, he came back last year to prove that he was still one of the best in the game at his position, which should make it easier now to walk away.