Mason says he wants to return

February 20, 2010|By Ken Murray | ken.murray@baltsun.com

The news of the week wasn't that the Ravens signed wide receiver Donte' Stallworth to a one-year, second-chance contract, but that veteran Derrick Mason wants to come back to the Ravens for two more seasons.

That's what the receiver told the Ravens' Web reporter this week, while at the same time saying there was a "high possibility" he would go elsewhere to play.

As an unrestricted free agent, Mason has that right. And in a free-agent pool diminished by the new rules of an uncapped season, he will be one of the more attractive receivers, even at age 36. Mason showed in 2009 that he can still play and still make a difference. Despite the rap that he lacks great speed, Mason averaged 15.8 yards per catch on 22 third-down receptions in 2009.

The Ravens don't want to lose that production, especially with no obvious replacement in sight. But will they be willing to pay Mason enough to keep him in a year when the collective bargaining agreement roof is figuratively falling, when they would like to extend the contract of Haloti Ngata, who is not a free agent, and a host of restricted free agents?

Only general manager Ozzie Newsome, who makes the decisions, and owner Steve Bisciotti, who pays the checks, know the answer. But unless Mason feels insulted by the team's offer, his biggest value appears to be with the Ravens.

Mason, who retired for three weeks last summer, said he would like to make a decision quickly so he can participate in the offseason program. All the better for the Ravens. Their receiving corps will be in flux for much of the offseason while the roster shakes out.

How much can we read into the signing of Stallworth? Not a lot. He gets a chance to re-establish himself in the NFL, and that's the best motivation you can have. It worked well for Kelley Washington last season. Washington signed with the Ravens after spending two years as a special teams ace in New England. He became a reliable third-down target, and remains the biggest receiver on the roster at 6 feet 3 and 217 pounds. (Stallworth is listed at 6-0 and 200.)

Washington could be the odd man out in the shake-up despite a solid season when he could have been used more. If Stallworth reclaims his career, will he be the No. 2 receiver or the No. 3? He would have to beat out Mark Clayton to be the No. 2, or his former University of Tennessee teammate Washington to be the No. 3.

The process is about upgrading the team at wide receiver. That starts by retaining Mason, and Stallworth aside, it involves bringing in more people. It's only getting started.

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