According to NFL sources, in order for a player to officially retire, they must send specific paperwork into the NFL's offices. At this time, they have not received anything official from Mason, so hopefully this will all blow over in the next week or so. If that paperwork is sent over by Mason, then you all can start jumping back on the "Panic-wagon" along with those who jumped on the "Flacco-Wagon" last year when we started looking like a winner after I predicted a 10-6 season in 2008.
My point is, just don't go postal over the so-called non-moves in the wide receiver department during this past off season in free agency and the draft, like many of you did when we used our first pick on OT Michael Oher. Oher's selection by Ozzie is now looking like the typical "Wizard" moves that he has earned his great reputation for. How many of you complained about the pick when it was made and thought we needed the WR instead? Perhaps a wideout in the other rounds would have been better, but that is with the future knowledge we now have.
Let's try to break Mason's semi-official retirement announcement down into a couple of specific areas. One, why is he retiring and why now? Two, what should the Ravens do at this point, with Training Camp just a couple of weeks away and the options relatively limited to a trade or free agent signing.
Many fans have commented that Mason should have told the team before the draft that he was retiring so we could have planned for his departure. Obviously, Derrick just decided this, although I'm sure he's been thinking about it for quite a while. He is no youngster in the NFL and with lingering injuries he has to be thinking about the end coming sooner than later. He just wasn't ready to end his career once last season's close call with a chance to go to the Super Bowl ended. He might have thought he had at least one more season in him, otherwise he would not have talked about a contract extension to get that one last big payday and signing bonus. However, once his best buddy, Steve McNair brought the epiphany of mortality to the forefront of Mason's mind, he looked at his career, life and future. That was the final straw in his decision-making process and the emotional toll the loss of a great friend took on him made the decision final. Or at least he thought so enough to post his decision on his blog (Click here to read his announcement). However, let's see what plays out over the next few days as the emotions settle down and clearer heads prevail. While it might still stand, I wouldn't be super surprised if he rescinds his comments with the excuse that they were fueled by his grief over the tragic loss of one of his closest friends.
As far as the "what do we do now" question that everyone is asking, our options are limited to what I mentioned before the "Jump." We can either trade for a receiver, sign a free agent, or of course, do nothing and hope our remaining crop can get the job done with a second year QB. Most of the readers here seem to think our current receivers are just not good enough nor experienced to step up and fill the void of Mason's 80+ receptions and 1,000 yards from 2008. I'm not one of them, as I feel that the WR position can be over-rated and is only as good as the QB's ability to get the ball to them. I cite both the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots abilities to get to the Super Bowl with a very pedestrian group of wideouts (other than the TO year in Philly and the Moss year in NE). While I am certainly not comparing Joe Flacco to either Donovan McNabb much less Tom Brady, I'm also not going to compare their defenses to the dominance of the Ravens that Flacco has as his advantage over both Brady and McNabb.
The obvious answer to so many pundits is to finally pull the trigger on either Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall. For whatever reasons you want to list here, I just don't see Ozzie making those moves, as he places an incredible high value on first round draft picks, and places an equally high value on the personal make-up of the players he tries to acquire. Perhaps the trade of a lower round draft pick for a "middle-of-the-pack" type of receiver may happen before this is over and done. More than likely, it appears that if indeed Mason makes it official in the next few days, the Ravens will bring in another bunch of the free agent receivers still looking for NFL employment for one more chance at joining the team in 2009.
However, I see Ozzie pretty much standing pat. If he picked out recent free agent signing Kelly Washington from a lackluster group of free agents a few months ago, then what else is actually out there that he thinks could be signed and contribute better than what we already have? Somehow, I doubt he will just make a roster-filling move to satisfy the public or even the press that has begun feasting like vultures on this recent news. The Ravens have a decent base of receivers that can produce if given the chance. It has to start somewhere and sometime, as it did with every great receiver that came into the league with little fanfare and then exploded when given the chance.
If the Ravens are looking to fill the role that Mason played, then they don't have to look far for his replacement and that is Mark Clayton. Clayton is built like a younger Mason, has good hands and could easily slide over to be the #1 target for Flacco. Then who fills Clayton's 'role?" That could be either Demetrius Williams, if healthy, or perhaps the up and coming Marcus Smith, who has the size, speed and hands to be a #2 or 3 wideout. The thing that becomes even more important than what it was is who will then be part of the group of reserves that will need to contribute enough to back up the starters? That group, including Kelly Washington, Yamon Figurs and a bunch of other guys will need to step up and separate themselves in Training Camp to earn those chances.
Not that it's easy to replace Derrick Mason's production and the confidence that Flacco had in him every time he released a pass in his direction that it would more than likely be caught by Mason's glue-like hands. However, it is definitely not time to panic like so many of you have already done. Don't release your typical fan-like venom on this team and it's Front Office. Have faith that they have always seemed to pull out that diamond-in-the-rough move when you least expected it. We will get it done and re-load like we have done all throughout the recent Ravens successful history. Keep the faith and lay off the leadership. Make no mistake about it. Derrick Mason was loved and will be missed by this team and its fans, but we will get through this hiccup and better players will appear out of this opportunity.