On the night when wide receiver Derrick Mason came back to the Ravens, their passing attack continued to take another step forward.
The Ravens struck a two-year, $8 million agreement with Mason on Wednesday, retaining the most consistent wide receiver in team history. He will earn $3.5 million the first year.
This much-anticipated deal returns Joe Flacco's favorite target and sends yet another message that the Ravens wanted to improve their passing game.
The Ravens have made three moves this offseason, and all three have involved the wide receiver position. The result: This could be the deepest wide receiver group in team history.
Last month, they signed Donte' Stallworth (one year, $900,000), hoping he can become the deep threat. Last week, they traded for Anquan Boldin (four years, $28 million), hoping he can become the No. 1 receiver.
The difference with Mason is the Ravens don't have to hope. Since joining the Ravens in 2005, he is the team's all-time leader in receiving yards (4,975) and ranks second in receptions (410) and receiving touchdowns (22).
"We know exactly what we're getting with Derrick, and that's production," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Every Ravens fan knows what Derrick brings to this team. It's reliability, toughness, leadership, the fight to win and the want of the ball in the clutch times. He has a two-year history with Joe that says, 'We know how to produce together.' They are on the same page."
There was really never a question of whether the Ravens and Mason were on the same page this offseason.
Mason, 36, made it known that he wouldn't play this season unless he received a two-year contract. The Ravens then publicly said they would want Mason for two more seasons.
But the re-signing took longer than expected, and Mason no longer was the priority when the team traded for Boldin. Still, there was little doubt that Mason would return because he didn't draw much interest in free agency. The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots reportedly considered him, but Mason didn't make any visits.
Now, Mason is back for nearly the same salary as before. His previous contract with the Ravens was $20 million over five years.
"I'm getting myself ready to play football and help the Ravens win," Mason said. "But the first thing I am going to do is take my family on vacation. I'll see everybody back in Baltimore soon."
When he comes back to town, it'll be interesting to see where Mason fits into the offense. He was the Ravens' No. 1 wide receiver for the past five seasons, but that title appears to have been given to Boldin.
Mason and Boldin also play similar styles. They are known as two of the most hard-nosed receivers in the NFL who can make the tough catch underneath but don't stretch defenses deep. Still, Mason makes most of his catches to the outside (near the sideline), while Boldin has more of a reputation for going over the middle.
However the Ravens sort it out, they have definitely boosted themselves at wide receiver.
Last season, their top four were Mason, Mark Clayton, Kelley Washington and Demetrius Williams. Now, it's Boldin, Mason, Stallworth and Clayton. Williams likely won't make this year's team, and Washington isn't needed anymore.
Plus, the Ravens could improve their group of wide receivers even more next month in the draft.
"This is outstanding, just great news for the Ravens," coach John Harbaugh said. "Our coaches are happy. Derrick's teammates are happy, and you know Joe is smiling."
Even though Mason hasn't played for another team since 2004, this isn't the first time he has returned to the Ravens. Last summer, he retired for 20 days during the summer before coming back.
But the Ravens have always been able to count on Mason. With a group of receivers who have been sidelined with injuries in the past (Boldin, Stallworth and Clayton have missed a total of 20 games the past four seasons), Mason has been one of the most durable at this position, playing in 122 straight games.
During his 13-year NFL career, Mason has 863 catches, 11,089 receiving yards and 59 receiving touchdowns. He is one of 17 players to record 850 catches in a career and ranks 14th on the NFL's all-time receptions list.
"We would have lost something special if Derrick had gone to another team," Harbaugh said. "We have gotten better in the last couple of days."
Changing the pattern
That was then … Wide receiver Rec. Yards TDs 1. Derrick Mason 73 1,028 7 2. Mark Clayton 34 480 2 3. Kelley Washington 34 431 2 4. Demetrius Williams 8 142 1
… This is now 1. Anquan Boldin 84 1,024 4 2. Derrick Mason 73 1,028 7 3. Donte' Stallworth 17 170 1 4. Mark Clayton 34 480 2 Note:
Statistics are for 2009, except for Stallworth, whose numbers are for 2008.