Dennis Pitta's injury rips another valuable weapon from Joe Flacco

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens wanted to build a stronger supporting cast around their franchise quarterback this offseason.

TE Dennis Pitta's hip injury on Friday underscored how much the Ravens have fallen short of that objective.

The Ravens gained nothing at wide receiver or tight end in free agency and the draft. If they lose Pitta, QB Joe Flacco would not only lose last year's receptions leader for NFL tight ends but also be without half of his top eight targets from last year.

This offseason, Steve Smith Sr. retired, Kyle Juszczyk signed with the San Francisco 49ers, and Kamar Aiken joined the Indianapolis Colts.

Those four players represent 50 percent of Flacco's completions last season and 48 percent of his passing yards. Three months before the start of the regular season, the Ravens are returning one player (wide receiver Mike Wallace) who had over 34 catches last season.

Losing Pitta could turn into a positive for Flacco. Pitta ranked 28th among tight ends with 8.5 yards per catch, and he produced one reception over 30 yards. Maybe Flacco will look downfield more often without Pitta being a safety valve.

This would be valid if the Ravens had been able to lure Brandon Marshall away from New York or if the 49ers didn't give Pierre Garcon a front-loaded contract (which Baltimore couldn't match). Right now, there are more question marks than answers in the Ravens' passing game.

Wallace led Baltimore with 1,017 yards receiving (his first 1,000-yard season since 2011), but all of his numbers declined in the second half of last season. Breshad Perriman has been making plays this offseason, but he has injured his knee in each of his first two NFL seasons.

At tight end, the Ravens are left with five players who missed time because of injury or suspension last season:

  • Benjamin Watson, 36, is expected to be ready by training camp after last year's Achilles injury

  • Nick Boyle, who has been running as the No. 2 tight end behind Pitta this spring, missed 10 games in 2016 after his second violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances

  • Maxx Williams is scheduled to return in training camp after a knee surgery that had never been performed on a football player

  • Crockett Gillmore has been sidelined 15 games the last two seasons, including the last nine last season with a thigh injury

  • Darren Waller, who served a four-game suspension last season for violating the substance abuse policy, is not practicing due to an undisclosed injury

While Pitta might not have been the same player from four years ago, he was still a major factor in this offense. He led the Ravens last season with 16 third-down conversions. He had the most reliable hands on the team, with only two drops. He also had the best chemistry with Flacco.

This offseason has been defined by losses for the Ravens offense. If Pitta can't play this season, he would be the fifth starter gone from an offense that ranked No. 21 in scoring (21.4 points per game) and failed to reach 20 points seven times.

The Ravens have done an admirable job of upgrading an already tough defense. How their season turns out will be determined heavily by how Flacco and a decimated supporting cast on offense step up.