BALTIMORE – Derrick Mason abruptly joined the New York Jets on a one-year, $910,000 guaranteed veteran minimum contract Saturday, leaving the Baltimore Ravens in a precarious situation at wide receiver
This was the second consecutive day where the Ravens were rebuffed by a wide receiver after Malcom Floyd rejoined the San Diego Chargers on Friday rather than accept a $3 million per year offer from Baltimore.
Structurally, the Jets' offer was superior to the Ravens' initial proposal to Mason after cutting him recently rather than pay his scheduled $4.5 million salary. By the end, no agreement could be reached with Baltimore and the offer was no longer there.
Mason, 37, was convinced to join the Jets because of coach Rex Ryan his friendship with former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott and defensive end Trevor Pryce. and the strong possibility that Baltimore might go with rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith as the starter opposite Anquan Boldin. He also considered the Tennessee Titans, where he began his career.
"After a lot of very thoughtful and careful consideration, conversations with my family and prayer, I have decided to sign with the New York Jets," said Mason, who caught 61 passes for 802 yards last season for Baltimore."I'm looking forward to working under Rex and rejoining some familiar faces."
Literally down to their Plan C after Plans A and B didn't work out, the Ravens are talking with former Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
However, Cotchery is scheduled to visit the Pittsburgh Steelers today and take a physical with the Ravens' chief AFC North rival. Baltimore, Pittsburgh and two other teams are interested in Cotchery.
Cotchery didn't pass his exit physical with the Jets upon being released after undergoing offseason back surgery, but has resumed cutting and running and is expected to be ready to play.
Cotchery, 29, caught 41 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns for the Jets last season.
He caught a career-high 82 passes for 1,1130 yards in 2007, dropping to 71 catches for 858 yards and five touchdowns in 2008 and 57 catches for 821 yards and three scores two seasons ago.
For his career, Cotchery has registered 358 receptions for 4,514 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Mason's former teammates didn't see this one coming after he returned to his Nashville home to contemplate his options following his Jets visit and physical.
They were hoping the two-time Pro Bowl selection would return.
"Derrick is a great locker room guy," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He can be a little bit of a diva sometimes, but that's all good and fun with him for the most part.
"Derrick is a great wide receiver. He can help this team out in my opinion. Yeah, I would welcome him back immediately."
With Mason gone, it's up to former Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin to provide a mentoring presence to rookie wide receivers Tandon Doss and Smith.
"Me and Mason had a great rapport," Boldin said. "I think he can help us out tremendously. Yeah, I'd love to have Mason back."
Since cutting Mason, tight end Todd Heap (Arizona Cardinals), nose guard Kelly Gregg (Kansas City Chiefs) and running back Willis McGahee (Denver Broncos) to save a combined $18.6 million against the NFL salary cap limit of $120.375 million, the Ravens were unable to retain any of the four veterans.
McGahee was the lone player Baltimore didn't attempt to bring back.
Now, the Ravens' offense is taking on a much younger, unproven look with tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta expected to fill the void created by Heap's departure and Smith and Doss being counted upon as well.
"When we were heading into this offseason, we were a pretty veteran team," Flacco said. "That was one of those things that we feel pretty confident about going into the lockout was the fact that we had a veteran team.
"Now, we pretty quickly got pretty young. So, anytime you get a guy that's a veteran and played some games in the NFL, it can help your locker room."
Mason has caught 924 career passes for 11,981 yards and 66 touchdowns.
Mason was jubilant after joining the Jets about the prospects of playing with quarterback Mark Sanchez, putting out a series of messages on his Twitter account.
"Jet fuel is full time to fly!!!," Mason wrote. "Going from one young gun to another! I would like to thank all of Baltimore for supporting me for the last 6 years. U guys and gals have been my football family and I will forever appreciate that support and love!"
In Baltimore, defense still rules
BALTIMORE-- Busting aggressively into the backfield with a constant barrage of sacks and also snatching four interceptions in the secondary, the Baltimore Ravens' defense displayed their unending supremacy over their offensive counterparts.
During an open practice Saturday before 24,078 at M&T Bank Stadium, the defense dominated again.
When quarterback Joe Flacco overthrew rookie wide receiver Tandon Doss, the football was intercepted by All-Pro free safety Ed Reed. Reed scampered up the sidelines, resisting the urge to lateral the football.
Rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw the bulk of the interceptions, including one deflected to safety Haruki Nakamura. Strong safety Tom Zbikowski and cornerback Cary Williams both intercepted throws.
Taylor was constantly harassed by pass rushers. During one sequence, rookie running back Anthony Allen got launched airborne by linebacker Albert McClellan on a bull rush. Allen went careening through the air into the quarterback, who fell to the ground for one of the defense's double-figure total of sacks.
"We come in here and we light it up," said Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, a difficult blocking assignment for left tackle Michael Oher. "We like to have a little bit of fun. The offense has got a lot of new guys. They don't know what it's like to actually come in here and play in our stadium in front of our fans.
"Once they get a taste of it, they're going to be like, ‘Wow. They weren't sure what to expect, but we did. We tried to put on a show for our fans."
The offense also struggled with penalties, including Oher and Oniel Cousins jumping offsides.
It was a case of the defense being away ahead of the offense at this early stage of the preseason.
"Always in the beginning, the defense can just go where they want to, that's always the case," Flacco said. "We have a lot of young guys trying to get up to speed. We still have some time to go."
An offense, especially one in flux with tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason and running back Willis McGahee no longer on the roster, takes time to build its timing. Especially so after a four-month lockout that erased the NFL offseason.
"There's a lot more experience on the defense," cornerback Chris Carr said. "It's not as technical as the offense. You should expect that we would be ahead of them right now."
This marked the first time fans could watch new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's schemes.
The Ravens' defense played with a lot of energy and nastiness.
"It's never going to be perfect and communication could be a little bit better," Pagano said. "We flew around. We had fun. We executed, we were physical, everything we talked about we were going to be. We have great leaders who raise the level of everybody out there."
Despite getting knocked around, Taylor wasn't intimidated by the Ravens' veteran-laden defense.
He displayed his elusiveness and improvisational skills, escaping the pocket and scrambling for several first downs.
"We had a little bit of fun with Tyrod, but he's a phenomenal talent," Suggs said. "He's going to be a great quarterback in this league sooner rather than later, and I can't wait to see what he's going to do. I think he's going to have an awesome preseason and I think he's going to do a good job additionally backing up Joe."
Drafted in the sixth round out of Virginia Tech, Taylor also lobbed a deep touchdown pass to leaping former University of Maryland wide receiver LaQuan Williams in the back of the end zone toward the end of the practice.
"Yeah, we got after them a little bit early," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "And they came back later and made some big plays on us."
The practice was intended as a treat for fans accustomed to watching the Ravens at McDaniel College each summer. However, training camp was shifted to the team's training complex due to the NFL lockout.
"That was a lot of fun, great environment," coach John Harbaugh said. "They were loud, they were excited, the guys were excited. This is one of the better things that we do as an organization. The other thing that showed up is the fact that it's different.
"I talked to the team about communicating. You get in an environment like this and you realize it's tough. There's a lot of distractions by design. That's part of the idea, to deal with that."
Ravens notebook: Cundiff maintains Pro Bowl form, boots 58-yarder
Jimmy Smith practices
BALTIMORE – The football sailed through the uprights, clearing the crossbar with plenty of distance to spare after a swing of Billy Cundiff's strong right leg.
Despite a cross wind blowing from the sideline, the Baltimore Ravens' Pro Bowl kicker connected easily on a field goal from 58 yards that would have been good from beyond 60 yards.
Cundiff also hit a 53-yarder for accuracy on seven of eight kicks with his lone miss coming from 37 yards when he hooked it a few feet wide of the left upright
Cundiff is intent on justifying the Ravens' investment in him. He was signed to a five-year, $14.7 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus in March prior to the NFL lockout.
"That's exactly right," Cundiff said. "Obviously, Matt Stover set the bar extremely high. I felt like when I got here I acknowledged the fact that I wasn't going to be Matt Stover. I wasn't going to do things the way he did them, but I was going to try to replicate the stats at the end of the day."
Cundiff converted 26 of 29 field goals last season, scoring a career-high 117 points.
As soon as he returned from the Pro Bowl, Cundiff began making his plans to return even stronger than last summer when he beat out Shayne Graham for the job.
"Once the season was done, I set my plan for the offseason knowing that it would be uncertain,"
Cundiff said. "I got back to training the Tuesday after the Super Bowl. I got a lot of lifting and strength work done in the offseason, and I felt that when the time came for training camp, I could show it off."
Last season, Cundiff led the NFL with 40 touchbacks and made 89.7 percent of his field goals and all 39 of his extra points.
After years of being a journeyman kicker constantly going on tryouts, Cundiff owned the job.
"I see the same guy that's got a very strong leg," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "He's made some long field goals and the kickoffs we've taken have been pretty much the same thing we saw last year, so he's taken very good care of his body. This is a guy who was out on his own for many years and now that he's got a team he isn't about to let that go, and we expect great things again from Billy this year."
Cundiff wasn't surprised that the coaches wanted him to try a long one, and he was glad that there was the presence of wind to increase the degree of difficulty.
And he made the kick despite some colorful language from outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who attempted to distract Cundiff.
"What did Suggs say?" Cundiff said. "It's not family friendly."
INJURY UPDATES: Cornerback Jimmy Smith practiced on a limited basis, and didn't experience a setback.
The first-round draft pick from Colorado was limited to individual drills after being sidelined for the previous four practices with a minor groin injury.
"It wasn't that much, but it felt good," Smith said. "I feel like I made a lot of progress. You can never be too safety. I don't want to go out there and re-tweak it and be out longer, so the staff's been taking pretty good precaution on it."
Smith predicted that he'll be able to resume full activities as soon as Monday.
"I'm definitely going to try and go on Monday," he said. "So, hopefully they let me go."
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said he's not concerned about Smith falling behind.
"From a mental standpoint, he's getting there," Pagano said. "He goes to every practice. He takes every mental rep the corners take on the field. He's a really bright kid. He won't have a problem. We would love to have him on the field, but I'm not worried. We've got a ton of guys who can play."
Meanwhile, wide receiver James Hardy didn't practice again due to a hamstring problem
"Everything is coming along, should be back soon, very soon," Hardy said. "All I do is listen to the trainers and do what they tell me to do."
A former Buffalo Bills second-round draft pick, Hardy needs to get healthy and get back on the field to earn a spot.
"It's been the worst thing I've had to do all year, so far, watching knowing that I can contribute in different ways," Hardy said. "Now, I'm waiting on my opportunity."
Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith (hamstring) took part in portions of the practice.
"I felt a lot better as the day went on," Smith said. "We're being more cautious than anything. I can't wait for a real game. This is just practice."
Also not practicing and remaining on the physically unable to perform list: defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee surgery), wide receiver David Reed (wrist surgery) , long snapper Morgan Cox (knee), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees).
Harewood said he'll be evaluated by doctors today.
"If all goes well, I'll be back Monday or Tuesday," he said. "It's just soreness. The pain has kind of disappeared."
McKinney said he's nearly recovered from his offseason surgery.
"Yeah, I'm almost back," McKinney said. "I should be back sometime next week. It's nothing major. I'm being careful with to make sure I don't get a setback. It's tough to watch. You never realize how much you miss training camp until you actually can't do it."
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk recently underwent surgery on his left knee and is out for three to four weeks, according to coach John Harbaugh.
Tight end Ed Dickson (undisclosed) didn't practice again as well as running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed).
C. WILLIAMS PLAYING WELL: Cornerback Cary Williams drew praise from Harbaugh and Pagano after intercepting a Tyrod Taylor pass Saturday.
The tall defensive back intercepted a pair of passes Friday.
"Cary Williams has had two excellent days," Harbaugh said.
"Cary Williams has another year under his belt," Pagano said. "He's maturing. All he's done is make plays since he's been here. He's got his confidence. He knows what to do."
A year ago, Williams began the season with a two-game suspension for a violation of the NFL personal conduct policy.
This year, he's in contention to play in the first game as a dime back as well as contribute on special teams.
"Being in the system definitely helps," Williams said. "It's hard work, going through the hours and doing all the intangible things. Last year, nothing was set in stone. I want to come out and compete to the best of my ability and stack practice after practice.
"It's the same old thing for me. I'm a firm believer in hard work. I'm willing to accept whatever role coach Pagano wants to put me in."
QUICK HITS: During a WBAL interview, Suggs offered this prediction: "Yeah, we're going to win the Super Bowl." … The Ravens are off today and resume practice Monday. … The practice was free to attend, including parking, allowing fans who normally don't attend games to watch the Ravens. "Definitely, ticket prices are way too expensive," cornerback Chris Carr said. "It's definitely good to see everybody. Everybody's polite. It's very nice."
… Starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain declined to say why he began camp on the non-football injury list. … At 6-foot-1, 228 pounds, new strong safety Bernard Pollard looks like a linebacker. And the Ravens plan to use him extensively in blitz packages. "It looks really good right now, he's come in and hit the ground running," Pagano said. "You got a 228-pound man back there, a grown man. It looks like we should be sending him every time. I don't care if they know it or don't know it. You send a big man like that. We had one of our guys find out what it feels like. He looks good."
… Flacco wished former Ravens backup quarterback Marc Bulger well in his retirement. "Marc was great to have around here last year," Flacco said. "Marc had a great career. I'm happy for him. He's made his decision. We're not too worried about the backup situation. I'm not really too concerned about that."
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