One of the big question marks for the Baltimore Ravens as they head into the 2016 season is at tight end, which is ironic, since it’s also the position that’s the most crowded.
After signing a two-year contract in March, coming over from New Orleans is veteran Ben Watson. He’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career, although it was with Drew Brees, which may not be the fairest comparison to how he’ll do with Joe Flacco. And Watson is now 35-years old. He has a lot of miles on his legs and hits on his body, and at some point he’s productivity will drop.
Flacco favorite, Super Bowl hero, and sentimental fan pick Dennis Pitta is back in the mix. He’s been battling a serious hip injury for much of the last three years and at one point doctors told him that it was past time to hang up his helmet for good. Pitta had other ideas and he’s now worked his way back into football shape and will be with the Ravens in training camp coming up in a couple of weeks. Pitta without question has the best hands of the Ravens tight ends. But of course that hip remains a massive question mark as the team looks ahead to the 2016 season.
And still in the mix, but also in the doghouse, is second-year tight end Nick Boyle. A year ago he looked to be a star in the making. But after sitting out the final four games of 2015 due to a PED suspension, and then compounding that mistake by landing another ten game suspension for the start of the 2016 season, he’s career is in serious flux.
Year-long suspensions needn’t, however, be the end of a career. Pro football Hall of Famer Paul Hornung and four-time Pro Bowler Alex Karras each were suspended for the entire 1963 season in one of sports most highly publicized and politicized betting scandals, even though they were not the first who placed bets, nor the only players punished by then commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1963. And it didn’t effect the popularity of either man. Karras went on to become a film and television star and Hornung was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986.
The same good will after the fact does not exist for the members of the Minnesota Vikings who were involved in the party boat scandal of 2005. While Hornung and Karras eventually made amends with Rozelle and the NFL fans, as recently as just a couple of years ago cornerback Fred Smoot, who was fined by the league and charged with disorderly conduct for his role in the scandal, was far from contrite when talking about the incident.
On the flip side, Hornung and Karras were. And by all accounts so is Nick Boyle. But where that leaves him when he eventually does becomes eligible to play again this season remains to be seen.