Mike Preston: Ravens need Mason back, warts and all

July 28, 2011|By Mike Preston

A few years ago, the Ravens could have traded Derrick Mason and there would have been few arguments. He was an "I Guy", a notorious complainer who had a quick temper.

But now, they should find a spot for him on the roster again.

Mason was one of four key veterans waived by the Ravens on Black Monday. He is still a prima donna, short-tempered and selfish, but during his six seasons in Baltimore, he was the team's most consistent offensive performer with 471 receptions and 5,777 receiving yards.

He has had more impact on the offense than Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Todd Heap.

The departure of Mason was a business decision, according to the Ravens, because he was to make $4.5 million this season at age 37. But there was more. Mason could irritate people at times because of his attitude, and maybe if he was a little less confrontational, the Ravens might have asked him to stay, but with a pay cut.

No media person in this town has had as many arguments or taken as many verbal jabs from Mason as me, but each year I gained more and more respect for him.

Because underneath the surface, Mason is really a good man who wants to win more than be the No. 1 receiver. He wants a Super Bowl ring to finish off a career as a great overachiever, and his best chance right now is with the Ravens.

And even if the Ravens may not want to admit it, Mason might be the late addition to the roster to get them there.

When the Ravens cut tight end Heap and Mason on Monday, they not only took away Flacco's top two weapons inside the red zone, but Flacco's security blanket in Mason.

For years now, we've heard about these new, fast,top quality receivers who were going to step up, yet Mason has always been the most reliable.

Heap had health problems. Mark Clayton couldn't get separation. Kelley Washington was too big and too slow. The Ravens were supposed to have a new and more wide-open passing game last year with the addition of Donte' Stallworth, T.J. Houshmandzadeh andAnquan Boldin.

Yet Stallworth's favorite pass pattern was the end around, and it was Boldin who dropped the touchdown pass in the end zone in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Houshmandzadeh who dropped a pass that halted the possible game-winning drive.

All Mason did was finish third on the team with 61 receptions for 802 yard and seven touchdowns despite playing several games with broken fingers.

No receiver on this current Ravens roster scares you. They have Boldin, but second-year receiver David Reed has gotten hurt every time he was asked to step up on either special teams or offense last season. Third-year receiver Justin Harper looks good in practice and in the preseason, but freezes up in games.

Rookie Torrey Smith, the team's second-round pick out of Maryland, has great speed but is unproven. The Ravens have interest in San Diego's Malcom Floyd, and he might be the answer.

But based on last season here in Baltimore, he might not.

Mason, though, is a great, proven insurance policy, possibly as a No. 3 receiver behind Boldin and Floyd.

Of course, there should be some stipulations. We'll just call them the Mason rules. Pouting can't be allowed because you're not the last player introduced on offense on game day. There will be no more slamming of helmets or arguing with officials, and fines will be levied for any incident. One more rule: Michael Jackson dance moves are prohibited.

Despite the baggage, there are a lot of positives about Mason. Few players other than Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Kelly Gregg or Rice practice harder than him. Regardless of age, he still runs better pass patterns than 90 percent of the receivers in theNFL.

His passion for the game is high. Sometimes, the expletive-laced tirades on the sidelines are exactly what the offense needs, and they aren't going to get that leadership from anyone other than Boldin and Mason.

Mason is down in Nashville somewhere waiting for his phone to ring. After 14 seasons in the league, you know he is in great shape and ready to play. The great thing for the Ravens is that Mason knows the offense and won't miss a beat even if he doesn't get signed for another week.

But the Ravens shouldn't wait that long. On a team void of offensive leadership, Mason has been a steady voice through the years. You need a player like this when things go bad, and there are a lot of high and low points during a 16-game season.

It's time the Ravens re-signed him, and allow him to become "King of the Comebacks" once again.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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