The surprising news of Derrick Mason’s retirement—even if it’s a negotiating ploy—has sent shockwaves through the city of Baltimore, especially for the large portion of Ravens fans that had already been clamoring for an impact receiver during the offseason.
While many are making the comparison to Steve McNair’s abrupt retirement in April 2008, the Ravens had more time to prepare in that situation. If Mason goes through with his intentions to retire, the Ravens will have to treat it similarly to how they dealt with Jamal Lewis’ season-ending knee injury in the early stages of training camp in 2001.
Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall and Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin will undoubtedly come up as potential replacements for Mason, but it’s highly unlikely we’ll see either player reining in passes from Joe Flacco.
Neither the Broncos or Cardinals are in the business of doing the Ravens any favors, so unless you’re willing to surrender multiple first-day picks, forget either one. With Mason’s retirement, these teams will view the Ravens as being backed into a corner, so the asking price would be even higher.
The other obstacle continues to be the salary cap. Mason’s retirement would save $3 million in space, but this still only leaves around $5 million in cap room. Given the fact that both Marshall and Boldin would demand a new contract with any trade, the cap space is not there.
The Ravens have until 4 p.m. on Wednesday to reach a new deal with linebacker Terrell Suggs before he would be forced to play under the $10.2 million franchise tender. With general manager Ozzie Newsome reportedly on vacation, it’s doubtful a deal is completed. Without a new contract for Suggs, the Ravens’ options at the wide receiver position will not include Boldin or Marshall.
If the Ravens really want to take a gamble, there’s always Plaxico Burress, but with his pending legal issues, he could easily be suspended for a large portion of the season. Much like Marshall, he doesn’t fit the Ravens’ profile and emphasis on character.
The other options are limited. If any current free agent receivers were thought to be impact players in 2009, they wouldn’t still be looking for a team in mid-July.
Here is a list of potential candidates. Each player’s 2008 team and stats are included.
1. Marty Booker (age 32) – 14 catches, 211 yards, 2 TD in Chicago
**Booker has over 500 career receptions, but a return to the Bears last season did not revitalize his game.
2. D.J. Hackett (age 28) – 13 catches, 181 yards in Carolina
**Hackett was invited to work out with the Ravens during OTAs but tried out with Houston instead.
3. Marvin Harrison (age 37) – 60 catches, 636 yards, 5 TD in Indianapolis
**Harrison would figure to bring similar tools to the table as Mason, but does the future Hall of Famer have anything in the tank?
4. Matt Jones (age 26) – 65 catches, 761 yards, 2 TD in Jacksonville
**Very questionable character issues with the former first-round pick would probably kill any interest on the Ravens’ part.
5. Ashley Lelie (age 29) – 11 catches, 197 yards, 2 TD in Oakland
**The promise he displayed in Denver seems like a long time ago.
6. Jerry Porter (age 31) – 11 catches, 181 yards in Jacksonville
**Porter tried out during OTAs and showed inconsistent hands and was sluggish.
7. Amani Toomer (age 35 at the beginning of the season) – 48 catches, 580 yards, 4 TD with the New York Giants
**Given the Giants’ issues at the wide receiver position, wouldn’t Toomer be back in New York if he had anything left?
8. Reggie Williams (age 26) – 37 catches, 364 yards, 3 TD in Jacksonville
**The 2004 first-round pick never lived up to his vast potential in Jacksonville.