OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On a day when players were thrilled to return to the Ravens training facility, receiver Derrick Mason faced the sobering possibility of leaving a place he’s called home for the final time.
Though it doesn’t become official until Thursday, the 37-year-old wideout will be released in a cap-saving move, along with veterans Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee. Mason was at the facility for his exit physical and met with general manager Ozzie Newsome.
After spending the last six seasons in Baltimore, becoming the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver, Mason remains upbeat and willing to return — if the Ravens want him.
“If they want me back, I’m back,” Mason said. “That’s all I can say. Now, if some other team wants me, then I think that’s one of those things you have to look at. My first thought would be to come back here. This has been my football home for the last six years, so why leave it so abruptly? I’m going to do what I can, and hopefully they’ll do what they need to do in order to try to bring me back. If not, hey, I can play football.”
Mason caught 471 passes and 29 touchdowns from 2005 to 2010, including a career-high 103 catches in 2007. He is the only Ravens receiver to record a 100-catch season in the 15-year history of the franchise.
Serving as the union representative before and during the 134-day lockout, Mason was asked if he now had an empty feeling after learning of his impending release on the same day that the lengthy labor battle came to a culmination.
“[We were] trying to make football better, and we accomplished that,” Mason said. “Football is better, because we were out of football for 134 days. And because of the hard work that we put in – the executive committee, DeMaurice [Smith] – football is much better than it was.”
Mason understood the business decision made by Newsome, reminding everyone that he faced a similar fate with the Tennessee Titan, but had nothing but kind words to say about the organization and city he’s called home since 2005. He was set to make $4.5 million in the final year of a two-year agreement signed on March 10, 2010.
He arrived in Baltimore when Kyle Boller was still considered the quarterback of the future, welcomed his former Tennessee teammate Steve McNair, and eventually became the safety net for current quarterback Joe Flacco.
“Why am I going to be upset? It is what it is,” said Mason, ironically while his agent was calling him. “I have no reason to be upset. This organization gave me an opportunity six years ago to further my career. Only thing I’m disappointed with is I didn’t get an opportunity to win a championship. That’s the only thing I’m disappointed [about].
“This organization has been more than accommodating, the fans have been more than accommodating. I don’t think you can play for a better organization than this one.”
With an entire offseason condensed into a matter of days, it’s difficult to predict if Mason will be back in purple when the Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 or if he’ll be running sideline routes for another team looking for a steady possession receiver to move the chains.
One thing is certain, however. Mason doesn’t doubt his ability to keep playing — even in the November of his career.
“My gut says I can still play football,” Mason said. “Where? I don’t know. It might be playing football when I’m in the backyard with my son. I don’t know, but I still can play football. That’s what [my gut] says to me.”
Listen to Derrick Mason’s entire conversation with the media at 1 Winning Drive in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.