Ravens hope to land Mason, keeping options open

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' quest for a blue-chip wide receiver has encountered a few road blocks.<br><br> First, the Randy Moss sweepstakes became too rich and led to the Oakland Raiders' formidable tandem of Moss and Jerry Porter. Then, the Chicago Bears swooped in to sign Muhsin Muhammad to a six-year, $30 million contract.

Now, the Ravens are hoping to entice former Tennessee Titans starter Derrick Mason to pick them ahead of a pack of suitors that includes the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants.

The Jaguars, whose receivers coach, Steve Walters, coached Mason in Tennessee, reportedly lead for his services.

Mason hasn't ruled out the Ravens, though, and told Tennessee reporters that he anticipated having a deal with a new team by Thursday or Friday. The Ravens are reportedly $15 million underneath the league salary-cap limit of $85.5 million.

"They're another team headed in the right direction," Mason said of Baltimore, which finished 9-7 last season and missed the playoffs. "It's important to be with a team that has a chance to win."

Mason, 31, has posted four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, averaging 81 receptions for 1,101 yards and seven touchdowns over the last five seasons with two Pro Bowl selections.

Mason registered 96 receptions last season for 1,168 yards and seven touchdowns before being cut as a salary-cap casualty.

Meanwhile, the agent for Pittsburgh Steelers free agent receiver Plaxico Burress indicated Monday that his client would like to stay in the AFC North with the Ravens. However, the Ravens reportedly believe his style of play to be too similar to athletic, tall wideouts Clarence Moore and Randy Hymes.

"We would have some interest in Baltimore," said Michael Harrison, Burress' agent.
Beyond Mason and Burress, the Ravens could wait to see if the Washington Redskins release disgruntled wideout Laveranues Coles. Trade discussions with the Jets have broken down over Coles' demand of a restructured contract with his prospective new employer.

The Redskins have placed Rod Gardner on the trading block, although he's viewed as a possession receiver who wouldn't stretch defenses vertically. Gardner caught 51 passes last season.

Along with Burress, who was perpetually overshadowed by Pro Bowl selection Hines Ward, Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh could battle a similar perception problem in free agency.

Houshmandzadeh caught a career-high 73 passes last season, including 10 in a damaging December win over the Ravens. He benefited heavily from Pro Bowl target Chad Johnson's presence, though.

Houshmandzadeh predicted he would be re-signed by Friday by Cincinnati or have a new employer.

"It could happen," Ravens coach Brian Billick told the Bengals' team Web site. "He had a great year. I was very impressed by what he did."

When asked about the Ravens' interested in Houshmandzadeh, Billick replied: "We're in the market for a couple of things. We have the cap room and we have all of our options open."

Other available receivers in free agency include: New England's David Patten, Detroit's Tai Streets, San Francisco's Cedrick Wilson and Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway.

The Ravens, who ranked 31st in passing offense last season, might need more than one wide receiver as Travis Taylor isn't expected to return and they recently terminated Kevin Johnson's contract.

At the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Baltimore has been highly impressed with receiver prospects such as Michigan's Braylon Edwards, USC's Mike Williams and South Carolina's Troy Williamson.

Yet, acquiring any of those highly regarded players would require Baltimore to trade up from its current spot of 22nd in the first round.

Williams covered 40 yards in 4.59 and 4.61 seconds, and Williamson was clocked in 4.38 seconds. Edwards declined to work out.

NOTE: The Ravens formed a partnership with MasterCard for next season where fans can use an extra-points credit card at M&T Bank Stadium to buy refreshments and souvenirs. It's intended to cut down on wait times in lines.

"We are thrilled to be offering ardent Ravens fans such a convenient payment and rewards program," Ravens senior vice president of business ventures Dennis Mannion said. "In addition to accumulating redeemable points, fans can now benefit from a quick, easy-to-use contactless payment card, enhancing their in-stadium experience."


As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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