Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Derrick Mason Retires

I was planning to do an O’s midseason review today when the news broke about Derrick Mason’s retirement. After consulting with Falco and Windsor, I decided to cover Mason and let Windsor take over the midseason review tomorrow. Then again, how can I cover Derrick Mason when so many defensive backs couldn't?

I think in order to appreciate what Derrick Mason has meant to this team, we need to ask ourselves just one question. How far would the Ravens have gotten last season without him? I challenge anyone to argue they would have been a .500 team. He was the one offensive weapon that kept the defense occupied, the reliable hands for the 3rd down catch regardless of whether his arm should’ve been in a sling or his legs being worked on by trainers. After coming to the Ravens already considered to be on the downswing of his career, Mason gave this team 1000 yard seasons in 3 of his 4 years here, to go along with 15 touchdown catches on a team that never threw many touchdown passes. Physically he was slowing down but never shied away from the deep route. Without a legitimate deep threat, Mason was continually sent 30-40 yards deep and used his intelligence to make a play on the ball when he couldn’t simply blow by his defender. He had his injury concerns this season but played in every game, regardless of his physical condition.

The timing of all of this is stunning, with the Ravens poised to make a leap (and desperately short on wide receivers as it is) and Mason negotiating for a new contract. But perhaps the latter point is what did it. Many times you see aging players fight for that next contract, seeing that management simply will not pay for a player in his mid-30’s regardless of what he has given the team or how well he has represented the franchise. Perhaps that what, in the end, caused the Ravens to balk at his contract demands. Hopefully the negotiations weren’t so contentious that it caused a reaction like this. However, it doesn’t appear this was about money, with Mason saying succinctly “Financially, I don’t think they can do anything to sway me.” Then again, isn’t everything in the NFL about money? I have heard a lot of players say that it is about “respect” instead of money… but it is odd how much respect looks like a fat contract.

In speaking about his decision to retire, Derrick Mason described a difficulty getting enthused about the team, about the game, and about the grind of the football season. He apparently has not been working out as much, and just doesn’t care that much anymore. “Emotionally I am just not that enthused. I have not been that enthused to get up and work out… It was getting to that point.” I can imagine after 12 seasons that a player could just be tired of it all; and I respect him for stepping away rather than drag through this coming season listlessly. If the fire isn’t there, then I am look forward to seeing him find a new endeavor he is passionate about. After all, people rarely keep the same job for 12 years and don’t want something new. To play football you have to be excited to get out of bed in the morning, to put your body through hell and enjoy it. If you don’t, it is responsible to find a new line of work.

So what do the Ravens do now? They will certainly add another receiver, whether as a free agent or through a trade. While I am sure they won’t rush out and do anything, there is no way they can enter the season with Mark Clayton at the #1 spot, unproven and injury-prone Demetrius Williams at #2 and a series of would-be training camp cuts at #3. If nothing else, this is a young receiving group that needs veteran leadership, the kind that Mason provided in making the other players around him better.

I do not think that this makes the Ravens more apt to trade for Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall. Ozzie Newsome is not one to mortgage the future to answer an immediate need, and the current state of the receiving corps isn’t going to make him more likely to try to replace Mason. After all, if he trades picks for a #1 receiver after just losing his #1 receiver to retirement, he has given up significant draft assets just to replace what he already had. Look for the Ravens to bring in someone like Marvin Harrison to serve in that veteran role, and perhaps bring in an adequate receiver to fill a roster spot and serve as a backup, like Koren Robinson, Reggie Williams, Drew Bennett, or *gulp* Ashley Lelie. Either way, the options don’t look good.

[Quotations and photo compiled from Baltimore Sun reports]

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