Mason likes Ravens' overall direction

Receiver says Baltimore `best fit'

team likes boost he brings to passing game

Pro Football

March 05, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The first impression of Derrick Mason is that he's not one to take the safe route.

Introduced yesterday in a news conference at the team's Owings Mills complex, the newest Ravens receiver admitted he chose to sign with the Ravens rather than go to the New England Patriots for more money.

How many other free agents would reject a more lucrative offer from the two-time defending Super Bowl champions and join a team that hasn't won a playoff game in three years? One? None?

Mason did. He accepted the challenge of revitalizing the Ravens' underachieving offense by signing a five-year, $20 million contract, although his decision was never really about money.

His focus was finding a home.

"In this stage of my career, the money is great but it becomes more than just that," said Mason, 31, who did not specify the difference between the two offers. "Once I got back home, we discussed and prayed about it. It's more important for my family to be comfortable in their environment. We just felt like Baltimore would be the best fit for us as a family."

Likewise, the Ravens believe Mason is the best fit for them. Before they went to the NFL combine a few weeks ago, they had targeted two receivers: Mason and Muhsin Muhammad.

Once Muhammad quickly signed with the Chicago Bears, the Ravens increased their pursuit of Mason in three days of talks.

"I think everybody was on board that he fit everything we were looking for," said George Kokinis, the Ravens' pro personnel director. "He fit from a production standpoint and from a veteran standpoint. All the checks we wanted, he filled them."

The interest was overwhelmingly mutual. The day after he visited the Patriots, he agreed on a deal with the Ravens without a meeting.

"If you look at what Kyle [Boller] has around him, that's a selling point in itself," said Mason, stylishly dressed in a black suit and lavender dress shirt. "There's not a lot of talking you have to do. You see where the team was last year and you see the potential that the team has for this year.

"This is an opportunity I felt that I just couldn't pass up."

Even before his decision in free agency, Mason routinely sprung surprises throughout his eight-year career with the Tennessee Titans.

A special teams player for his first 3 1/2 seasons in the league, Mason didn't establish himself as a starter until 2001, the first of his four straight 1,000-yard seasons. The one-time return specialist became the Titans' go-to receiver from 2001 to 2004, when Tennessee won 55 percent of its games (35-29 record) and ranked in the top 10 in passing twice.

His reputation has been built on being fearless despite standing just 5 feet 10, 190 pounds. He's known for making the tough, acrobatic catches over the middle and breaking big gains.

"We expect to get the playmaking we've seen against us the last few years," receivers coach David Shaw said. "Not just the big plays, but the consistent big plays. Not just the yards per catch, but the yards after the catch. It's a lot of the little intangibles that Derrick brings to the table. His personality, persona and energy will be a great addition to the offense."

Mason's 191 catches the past two seasons is second only to St. Louis' Torry Holt (211) and is substantially more than the totals of Terrell Owens (157) and Randy Moss (160), two receivers whom the Ravens were interested in acquiring.

"My main thing is to be consistent, a wide-out that you can count on every game," Mason said. "Am I Randy or Terrell? No. I'm Derrick and the things I do out there on the field are very productive. I think I can be put up there with those guys."

There's also a major difference in leadership with Mason in comparison to Moss and Owens.

The Ravens are banking on Mason giving a helping hand to the other Ravens' receivers (Clarence Moore, Devard Darling and Randy Hymes), a group that has never started an entire season or caught more than 32 career passes.

"He brings us legitimacy," Shaw said.

The biggest change for Mason will be at the quarterback position. Instead of catching passes from a former NFL Most Valuable Player in Steve McNair, he will be pulling in throws from an unproven Boller.

Like most of his career, Mason has never been daunted by taking a risk.

"You can't expect the world from a rookie or a second-year guy," Mason said. "It's a progression that he makes. Steve wasn't always Steve. So, we're looking for the same from Kyle. Once he really gets comfortable, I think he's going to be one of the best in the league and I want to be a part of that."

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