Option Routes

Marvin Harrison Brandon Marshall Anquan Boldin Plaxico Burress

If Mason Does In Fact Retire, The Ravens Will Be Left With A Big Void

Here Are Some Receivers Who Could Help Fill It

July 15, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

If wide receiver Derrick Mason follows through on his retirement announcement - he told ESPN on Monday that he's "99 percent" sure - his unexpected departure would leave the Ravens with few options to replace him.

It's like trying to shop on Christmas Eve - everything you would want is probably gone.

Instead of having one of the NFL's sure things (Mason has caught at least 80 passes in five of the past six seasons), the Ravens face a situation in which they might have to gamble to fill the void he leaves as far as production and leadership.

That's why the Ravens haven't officially recognized Mason's retirement, and that's why teammates will try to change the 12-year veteran's mind.

There has been speculation that the Ravens are looking again at Brandon Marshall, the disgruntled wide receiver who has requested a trade from the Denver Broncos. Marshall is everything that Mason isn't - he's big, strong and young.

The problem: Marshall isn't as reliable as Mason off the field. He has been arrested at least four times since 2004, including twice on domestic battery charges. Plus, knowing the Ravens' need for a receiver, the Broncos will almost certainly demand a steep price, which would include a first-round pick in 2010.

As far as free agents, the Ravens also have been strongly linked to Marvin Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowl player who was released this year by the Indianapolis Colts. Harrison, who turns 37 in August, caught at least 80 passes each year from 1999 to 2006.

But his production dipped significantly the past two seasons, prompting some to think his career was over. Harrison had 20 catches in an injury-filled 2007 season and 60 receptions last season, his fewest in a season with at least 15 games played.

Beyond Harrison, the free-agent market for receivers is littered with aging or injured veterans. The underwhelming list includes: Drew Bennett, D.J. Hackett (who previously turned down a tryout with the Ravens), Amani Toomer, Justin McCareins, Reggie Williams and Darrell Jackson.

If Mason had announced his retirement before free agency started in March, the Ravens would have had the option to pursue free agents like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Torry Holt or Laveranues Coles.

If Mason had announced his retirement before the draft in April, the Ravens might have had more initiative to draft a wide receiver or complete a deal with the Arizona Cardinals for Anquan Boldin.

Now, after finally finding their quarterback of the future in Joe Flacco, the Ravens have a wide receiver group that likely would rank near the bottom of the NFL.

Mark Clayton has caught fewer than 50 passes in three of his four seasons. Demetrius Williams has finished the past two seasons on injured reserve. Their third receiver, Marcus Smith, didn't catch a pass as a rookie. And their fourth wide-out, Kelley Washington, joined the team after a tryout in May.

If the Ravens make a move, here are The Baltimore Sun's top five options to replace Mason:

1. Marvin Harrison, free agent. : He represents the best value (the Ravens wouldn't have to give up a draft pick) and the least amount of risk if the Ravens are looking for a stop-gap solution. Harrison seems like a carbon copy of Mason, a sure-handed and possession-type receiver. And it was only 2006 when Harrison had 95 catches and 12 touchdowns. But Harrison won't come cheap. There is talk that the Minnesota Vikings are interested in him if they land quarterback Brett Favre.

2. Brandon Marshall, Broncos. : This is the high-risk, high-reward option. It's extremely rare to have a chance at acquiring a 25-year-old playmaker who has caught more than 100 passes the past two seasons. But there's a catch. The Ravens would not only have to give up draft picks, but they would also have to sign Marshall to a lucrative new deal. Would you give $9 million a season to a player with his legal troubles?

3. Anquan Boldin, Cardinals. : There are no legal concerns with Boldin, but the Ravens would probably have to give up the same number of draft picks for a receiver who turns 29 in October. Like Mason, Boldin is a proven commodity, catching at least 70 passes in each of the past four seasons. The reason Boldin would be available is his demand for a new contract. Would you give $9 million a season to a player who could be nearing the downside of his career?

4. Plaxico Burress, free agent. : Sure, he doesn't fit coach John Harbaugh's team-first philosophy. And sure, there is a chance that Burress will be jailed on weapons charges or suspended by the NFL. But these are desperate times for the Ravens. If Burress can play this season, he would an intriguing downfield target for Flacco.

5. Drew Bennett, free agent. : This is the dark horse in the field. Bennett's number of catches has decreased the past four seasons, which led to his quick release from the St. Louis Rams. But his yards-per-catch in Tennessee was 14.7, which would make a good pairing with the strong-armed Flacco. More than anything, Bennett would come cheap and with little risk.

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