It's clear that coming off a 5-11 season, the Ravens have some tough decisions to make regarding their 2016 roster. To be sure, injuries were a huge part of the story this past season, but there figures to be significant roster turnover after one of the worst seasons in team history. And as always, the salary cap will have a major influence on how the Ravens go about constructing their 2016 roster.
Over the next two weeks, we are examining each Ravens position group with an eye toward 2016. Who stays? Who goes? We've already covered the offensive line and wide receivers. Today it's the tight ends.
Note: For the purpose of this discussion, we will limit the roster to those players on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve, and in the case of the tight ends, suspension (looking at you, Nick Boyle...). (And here is more on free agency terminology.)
Under contract: Nick Boyle, Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams
Unrestricted free agents: Allen Reisner
Restricted free agents: Chase Ford
Exclusive rights free agents: Konrad Reuland
The tight end position appears to be in good hands after the Ravens invested pretty heavily in the draft -- a second- and a third-round pick -- in the past two years. And fifth-round pick Nick Boyle had a strong rookie season in 2015 before a suspension cut short his season.
The only real question with this group is what to do with Dennis Pitta. Pitta maintains that he wants to play again, but he hasn't been given the OK by doctors, and that might never happen after two serious hip injuries. He is due a $5 million base salary in 2016 -- which is more, by the way, than Gillmore, Williams and Boyle will make combined -- and so if Pitta doesn't retire, he likely will be released.
The Ravens will still carry more than $6 million in dead money, the vestiges of the $11 million signing bonus when Pitta signed that five-year, $32 million deal in 2014.
The Ravens could designate Pitta a post-June 1 release, which would push $4.4 million of that dead money to 2017 and save them $5 million. In the end, $6.6 dead money must be accounted for sooner or later, but it seems Pitta has probably played his last down.
No one feels good about that, as Pitta is among the more well-liked players in the organization and has been tireless in his rehabilitation.
Still, in drafting Gillmore, Williams and Boyle, the Ravens were prepared for Life After Pitta. Gillmore led the tight ends in catches (33), receiving yards (412) and touchdowns (4) and should enter camp as the No. 1 tight end again.
Williams (32-268, 1 TD) started slowly but came on strong late in the season, and he finished with better numbers than Todd Heap did as a rookie (16-206), although that team did have Shannon Sharpe. The Ravens like Williams' upside, and he will be just 22 next season.
Boyle was the most pleasant surprise of what was an underwhelming year for the Ravens 2015 draft class. Billed as a blocking tight end, he showed better hands and athleticism than advertised and finished with 18 catches for 153 yards. But a suspension for a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs cut his rookie season short.
None of these three, though, made it through the season without injury, which led to the Ravens calling on stopgaps such as Konrad Reuland.
Still, overall this is a promising group that -- taking Pitta out of the equation -- is also being paid relatively little; none will be making $1 million this year. That value is vitally important as the Ravens try to improve their roster given the constraints of the salary cap.
MORE RAVENS: Ravens roster preview: Wide receivers