OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — It wasn’t long ago when Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta wondered if a serious injury would end his NFL career.
Pitta dislocated and fractured his right hip on the second day of training camp last summer, leaving the sure-handed pass catcher with an uncertain future.
With a bit of luck, hard work and no small measure of determination, Pitta returned to play in Baltimore’s final four games. And now, he’s got a new five-year, $32 million contract that fulfills his desire to remain with the Ravens rather than become an unrestricted free agent.
Pitta signed the pact last week. Speaking Wednesday at a news conference to announce the deal, he said, “To be able to sit here now, to have an opportunity to be on the field and be with this team for a few more years to come, it’s a blessing.”
Last July, Pitta landed awkwardly in the end zone during a passing drill and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Emergency surgery followed, and Pitta was told it would take some time to determine the lasting impact of the injury.
“There were a few weeks after my surgery that I didn’t know if I would play football again, which is a tough pill to swallow,” Pitta said. “Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and things looked good enough in an MRI where I was able to get back out there.”
Pitta caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, then added 14 more receptions and three more scores in Baltimore’s run to a world championship.
Last year, he had 20 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown — numbers that would have project to 80 catches for 676 yards over a full season.
On the verge of becoming an attractive free agent, Pitta had little desire to go elsewhere.
“You never know with free agency what’s going to happen,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be here. That was a priority of mine. Fortunately, we were able to get it done.”
The Ravens have plenty to accomplish this offseason after finishing 8-8 last year and missing the postseason for the first time in six years. Getting Pitta, according to coach John Harbaugh, was “right on top of the list.”
After winning the Super Bowl, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome traded wide receiver Anquan Boldin in part because he knew Pitta could make the tough catches in the middle of the field on third down. Then came the injury, and suddenly the Ravens were without a possession receiver.
Newsome signed Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokely, neither of whom sufficiently filled the void.
“We didn’t have to go through the season to understand how valuable and what a good player Dennis has been,” Harbaugh said. “It was a big blow to us. We worked hard to try to overcome it, but it’s hard to replace a great player like that.”
Pitta acknowledged that the recovery process is still ongoing.
“The big thing for me right now is to continue to strengthen my hip and my leg,” he said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I was 100 percent with my quickness and explosion when I came back.”
Now that Pitta has been secured, the Ravens continue to negotiate with several other players — most notably left tackle Eugene Monroe — before the start of free agency on Tuesday.
“We’ve got aggressive offers out to all those guys,” Harbaugh said. “We want to keep our guys. We want our guys to be here, just like Dennis.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)