Ravens Will Watch Mason's Every Move

July 23, 2009|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

When Ravens head coach John Harbaugh meets with Derrick Mason as soon as today to talk about the player's shocking retirement announcement, you can expect the Ravens to give Mason the hard sell to unretire, given how thin they are at receiver.

As of Wednesday, word out of the Castle was that Harbaugh and his best wide receiver still hadn't met face-to-face about Mason's shocking decision to retire.

"We want him back, and we think he can play more than one year," said a team source who asked to remain anonymous.

And Harbaugh told the Associated Press that when he spoke with Mason by telephone Tuesday, the conversation covered "family, his contract, the team, his feeling about competing and playing, what it's like to have a long career."

"He's ready physically," Harbaugh told the AP. "He's in good shape, and he's healthy. He just wants to decide if he's mentally ready. It's really open right now. I'm optimistic and hopeful that he'll be there, but if he's not there, we'll ... support and respect his decision either way."

But it's clear the team will be watching carefully for any signs either way.

Maybe it'll be like at the Vatican when they announce a new pope.

White smoke pouring out of the Castle chimney means Mason's staying and collecting the $3 million for the final year on his contract.

Black smoke means he's hanging it up, walking away from all that cash and moving on with his life, which will not be one of poverty, either.

The Ravens better hope for white smoke, is all I can say. Because look at the situation Mason has left them in if he doesn't come back.

Training camp opens Monday, which doesn't exactly give them a lot of time to prepare for losing a guy who led the team with 80 catches for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns.

Sure, they're working out four wide receivers Friday. But there are no superstars in this bunch.

One is Drew Bennett, 30, cut by the St. Louis Rams after one catch last season because of a foot injury. Another is D.J. Hackett, 28, released by the Carolina Panthers last year after catching 13 passes for 181 yards.

We don't know who the other two are. Although it's a safe bet they're not of the talent level of disgruntled players such as Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall.

Anyway, according to the Ravens, Bennett and Hackett were scheduled to work out for the team even before Mason announced his retirement.

Why? It doesn't take a genius to figure it out.

Even with Mason in the fold, the Ravens were worried about their depth at that position.

With Mason gone, they'd be more than worried. They'd be panic-stricken - even if you're not allowed to admit that in the NFL.

No, if you're a head coach in the NFL and you lose a top player, you're supposed to stand in front of the media, flash a confident smile and say: "Well, sure, old No. 82 won't be with us. But we're real happy with the other guys we have and expect great things from them."

It's all bull. And everyone in the league knows it.

Without Mason, the Ravens are looking at Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams as their probable starting receivers.

Neither has lived up to expectations. Clayton has been slowed with a foot injury this summer. Williams, the big, fast fourth-round draft choice in 2006, is recovering from ankle surgery to repair an injury that forced him to miss 19 games the past two seasons.

After them, the two best are probably Kelley Washington, the veteran signed as a free agent in the offseason, and Marcus Smith, the second-year guy out of New Mexico.

Washington played mostly on special teams the past few years. Smith didn't catch a pass as a rookie last season.

Does this sound terribly reassuring to you?

Now imagine how it sounds to the Ravens' coaching staff when it breaks it down at the Castle these days.

Still, the fact is we're not sure what's behind Mason's decision to retire, or whether the Ravens can talk him out of it.

Is it about money? Is it about lack of motivation? Is it about the slaying of his good friend, Steve McNair?

Who knows?

But the Ravens need him so desperately - and he's such a good guy and great teammate - that they'll pull out all the stops to get him to change his mind.

Don't forget, Ozzie Newsome has dealt with situations like this before. The Ravens' general manager and executive vice president sat down with Michael McCrary and Jonathan Ogden when those players were considering retirement.

Both ended up staying on for another year.

Maybe Newsome can work the same magic with Mason. Maybe Harbaugh can, too.

White smoke pouring from the Castle chimney - that would be something to see.

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