Ravens thrilled with Mason's addition

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are no longer relegated to down-and-out status at wide receiver after acquiring highly regarded veteran Derrick Mason.<br><br>One year after the Terrell Owens debacle and on the heels of withdrawing from the Randy Moss sweepstakes, the Ravens finally addressed their most glaring area of need. The former Tennessee Titans' Pro Bowl selection chose Baltimore over the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots during the first day of the free agent signing period.

The Ravens agreed in principle Wednesday morning to a five-year contract with Mason that included a $7 million signing bonus and $11 million in guaranteed money, filling an obvious void for the 31st-ranked passing game in the NFL. The total worth of the contract wasn't disclosed, but Mason said it was comparable in scale to his last Titans' deal of five years and $23 million.

"It came down between the Ravens and New England," Mason said. "The Ravens stepped up to the plate and made things happen for me. Everything about [New England] was first class, but it came down to the fact that my family and I decided that the Ravens and the Maryland area were the most appealing and the best situation for us as a family."

Mason, 31, led all NFL receivers last season with 96 receptions for 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns before being cut last week in a salary-cap upheaval.

The only major drawbacks on Mason are his age and size at 5-foot-10, 192 pounds, but he's been fairly durable and has only started for four seasons after breaking into the league as a return specialist.

"The biggest thing is, he's a playmaker," said Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, who didn't rule out signing another veteran. "You like his attitude, the way he carries himself on the football field. The biggest thing is we've lacked some quickness at receiver and he brings some quickness to us.

"Derrick just fits that Ravens personality. I think he's going to add something to our huddle, just his leadership and the way he carries himself."

The addition of Mason could prevent defenses from keying on running back Jamal Lewis and tight end Todd Heap as well as reduce the pressure on third-year quarterback Kyle Boller. Lewis and Heap wore down with injuries last season as Baltimore was the only team in the NFL to not have a receiver catch at least 40 passes.

"It's a cumulative effect," Billick said regarding Mason's potential impact. "It doesn't have to be 90, 95 catches for him to say, 'See, I was a good acquisition.'"

Mason is scheduled to take a physical today at the Ravens' training complex. He chose the Ravens one day after visiting the Patriots as the Jacksonville Jaguars' interest cooled off.

Mason 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.

"I think the signing of Derrick Mason is the most substantial move to date we've made, particularly in free agency, particularly at the wide receiver position," Billick said. "When you take someone of Derrick Mason's caliber, you expect it to have an impact."

Mason, who attended the same Detroit high school as comedian Eddie Murphy (Mumford), has built a strong reputation as a locker-room leader.
Ironically, Mason referred to Billick as arrogant in January, 2004 following the Titans' 20-17 playoff win over Baltimore.

"I think we humbled them a whole bunch," Mason said. "I think they got too full of themselves and thought they could show up and beat us.

"Not only them, I think their coach was rather arrogant. He was rather arrogant, and it backfired on them."

Billick rarely stopped smiling after adding Mason to a nondescript receiving corps that includes Clarence Moore, Randy Hymes, Devard Darling and Fred Stamps. He played down the post-game rancor.

"We laughed about that," Billick said. "I told him that if I'm not his favorite coach when we're said and done, we'll double his money. If that's arrogant, so be it, but we're going to get along great."

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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