Surprise audible: Drew Bennett retires

OWINGS MILLS -- Calamity struck the Baltimore Ravens' volatile wide receiver situation again as veteran wide receiver Drew Bennett announced his retirement Sunday night on the eve of training camp two days after aggravating an old knee injury. Now, the Ravens, who are already dealing with Derrick Mason contemplating retirement, won't have Bennett to provide experienced depth and sure hands.

Bennett, 30, was signed to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum of $755,000 on Friday afternoon.

"After returning home from Baltimore this weekend, a previous knee injury flared up, making me realize that I am unable to play another NFL season," Bennett said in a statement released by his agent. "Therefore, I have decided to retire from the National Football League. I want to thank coach [John] Harbaugh, [offensive coordinator Cam] Cameron and Ozzie Newsome for offering me the opportunity to be a part of their outstanding organization, and apologize to them for this unfortunate situation."

According to his agent, Bennett's knee swelled up dramatically after returning home to Nashville, Tenn., on Friday. The injury, which dates back to Bennett's time with the Tennessee Titans, will probably require surgery.

Bennett passed the Ravens' physical on Friday with particular attention paid to a broken foot from last season that had healed up.

During an emotional telephone call Sunday, the former St. Louis Rams and Titans starter informed Harbaugh of the bad news.

"Drew absolutely couldn't have made it through training camp," said Steve Caric, Bennett's agent. "He feels terrible about this. It's very hard for him right now."

During a tryout praised by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Bennett beat out former Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.J. Hackett as well as Chris Hannon and Justin Brown.

"The Ravens are a first-class organization that I was truly excited to join," Bennett said. "After an offseason of workouts and rehab, I thought I was ready to play again, but it became apparent over this weekend that while my mind is willing, my body will not be able to make it through another NFL season.

"I have been blessed to have the opportunity to play in the NFL for as long as I have, but it is time for me to move on to the next chapter in my life."

For his eight-year career, Bennett has caught 307 passes for 4,412 yards and 28 touchdowns. That included a career-high season in 2004 with 80 receptions for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"I'm probably healthier now than I was two years ago, and two years ago I was the hot commodity," Bennett said after the workout Friday. "People were asking to fly me around. Now, it's like I'm begging to get in the door.

"It definitely makes me a little bit hungrier to prove myself. When it's low expectations, I seem to do well. I think it's a good spot for me. Hopefully, I can get in the door and impress some people and play."

However, that won't be the case now in light of the injury.

Mason, 35, announced his decision to retire on July 13, but that isn't regarded as his final word on the matter. Team officials remain hopeful that the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver will decide to play this year.

Mason is dealing with the death of close friend and former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, an unresolved contract situation as he enters the final year of a five-year, $20 million contract and a personal family issue.

Caric indicated that Bennett might try to convince his former Tennessee teammate to decide to play again in the wake of his unexpected retirement.

Several free agent receivers' representatives have contacted the Ravens over the past two weeks to express interest in joining the team, but haven't been invited to try out.

That group includes Matt Jones, Amani Toomer, Robert Ferguson, Justin McCareins, Tab Perry, Koren Robinson and Joe Horn.

It's not immediately clear what the team's next move will be after the Bennett option unexpectedly unraveled the night before rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans are reporting to training camp in Westminster.

The Ravens' other wide receivers under contract includes Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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