Dennis Pitta keeping a close eye on a looming dispute over Jimmy Graham's position

March 05, 2014|By Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun

Down in New Orleans, the debate rages on about whether tight end Jimmy Graham, who was designated by the New Orleans Saints as their franchise tag on Monday, should actually be classified as a tight end.

A pretty strong argument can be made that Graham should be classified as a wide receiver considering that the Saints asked him to line up in the slot or out wide more often than he had a hand on the ground as a traditional in-line tight end. The counter-argument is that Graham, based on his size and skill set, is a tight end no matter where he lines up on the field. The NFL’s decision on this will be a $5.079 million one.

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who could also have made a pretty strong case to be classified as a wide receiver had the Ravens slapped the tag on him, shared his opinion on Graham’s situation Wednesday.

“It’s an intriguing debate. I’m a little bit biased in my opinion obviously,” Pitta said at a news conference to announce his five-year, $32 million contract extension. “I think in football it’s interesting because you get labeled as something. Take Jimmy Graham for example. He gets labeled as a tight end and for whatever reason that somehow decreases his value. I don’t understand that part of it. He’s been a top producer in this league, certainly on his team. He led his team in catches, yards, touchdowns.”

Graham led all NFL tight ends with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. In four NFL seasons, he has 301 catches for 3,863 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Under the franchise tag figure for tight ends, Graham would make $7.053 million on a guaranteed one-year deal. If the NFL rules, after a grievance is filed, that he should be considered a wide receiver, he would make $12.132 million.

“Why all the sudden because he’s labeled a tight end does that devalue his stock?” Pitta said. “I think it’s something that he should challenge because it’s not right that he can catch more touchdowns and yards than someone that is classified as a wide receiver yet because he has that tight end label, now all the sudden his value is cut in half.”

While Graham spent a big chunk of his snaps out wide or in the slot, no tight end lined up in the slot more frequently that Pitta in 2013. In a small, four-game sample size, Pitta lined up in the slot on 79.7 percent of his snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2012, he led all tight ends in touchdowns out of the slot.

Pitta said he doesn’t expect his role to change much in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense. Kubiak liked to use two tight ends together when he was head coach of the Houston Texans and his tight ends typically put up pretty good numbers, especially inside the red zone.

“What I know of the offense is [from] watching Houston the past few years and seeing their tight ends, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, put up great statistics,” Pitta said. “And it’s not all about statistics, but they’ve been productive and they’ve been a centerpiece of that offense. And I feel like I can produce in that same way and I’m excited about the challenge and ready to get going.”

In the meantime, Pitta will be watching as another mismatch-creating tight end takes on a whole different challenge.

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