Ravens not giving up on Mason

OWINGS MILLS -- General manager Ozzie Newsome has been observing veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason throughout this offseason while the two-time Pro Bowl selection recuperated from surgery to repair his labrum and scapula. Although Mason is still contemplating whether to follow through on his abrupt retirement announcement, Newsome hasn't noticed any change in Mason's workout regimen.

"In the end, it comes down to, 'Do you still have the passion and the love for the game?'" Newsome said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Derrick has worked his butt off this offseason. He's a very productive player. He works hard.

"He's in great shape. He's a great student in the classroom. He makes our team stronger if he's a part of it. If he's not, we move on."

At this point, Mason's status remains unsettled nearly two weeks after catching the Ravens off guard with his surprise retirement announcement.

Yet, team officials remain upbeat about the possibility that Mason will decide to return at some point during training camp.

"He's ready physically," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the Associated Press after meeting with Mason this week. "He's in good shape and he's healthy. He just wants to decide if he's mentally ready.

"It's really open right now. I'm optimistic and hopeful that he'll be there, but, if he's not there, we'll be support and respect his decision either way."

Mason didn't return telephone calls from the Times on Thursday, and his agent, Lamont Smith, didn't respond to e-mails and calls.

Mason, 35, has yet to file his retirement papers with the league office. Even if he did, the Ravens would retain his rights if he was placed on the reserve/retired list. And taking such an action isn't irrevocable.

"I haven't received a letter from the league," Newsome said. "So, I assume that Derrick will be here on Monday night. That's when he's supposed to report."

Quarterbacks, rookies and selected veterans are scheduled to report Monday. The rest of the team is scheduled to report Wednesday.

Mason is dealing with a lot emotionally. His close friend, Steve McNair, was murdered by his 20-year-old girlfriend, who committed suicide after shooting the former Ravens and Tennessee Titans quarterback four times.

Mason has been lobbying publicly and privately for a contract extension since the season ended and is due to make $3 million this season in the final year of a five-year, $20 million contract. And Mason is also dealing with private family issues as well.

During his sit-down with Mason, Harbaugh said that their discussion ran the gamut. That included the McNair situation as well as family, Mason's contract and his prolific career. "He was really open and upfront," Harbaugh said. "It was two guys just trying to see what's down the road."

What's immediately on the Ravens' horizon is today's tryout of four wide receivers. That includes former St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans starter Drew Bennett and former Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers wideout D.J. Hackett.

Bennett, who was limited to one reception last season in St. Louis due to a foot problem, is regarded as the Ravens' top candidate to sign among the players invited to the tryout. That audition will also include an undrafted rookie free agent.

The workout won't include Robert Ferguson, Matt Jones, Amani Toomer, Tab Perry, Koren Robinson or Justin McCareins, according to their respective agents.

When asked about the quality of the available free agent receivers, Newsome replied: "It's the same people that's been out there since the draft. Nothing has changed with that."

No deal is believed to be imminent, but there are scenarios where the Ravens might sign a veteran to work in tandem with Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington.

Meanwhile, the Ravens are giving Mason time and space to consider his future. The last thing they want to do is pressure him for a quick decision and alienate him.

Plus, Mason was unlikely to be ready for the start of camp in Westminster anyway because of his shoulder surgery. So, if he reported midway through camp, it wouldn't be a big issue.

Mason led the Ravens last season with 80 receptions for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns.

"I think it's real honorable what he's doing in the sense that it would be easy for a guy to just come in and go through the motions," Harbaugh said. "Derrick does not want to go through the motions. He wants to make sure he's in the right frame of mind to compete at the level he's competed at his whole career, which is a warrior-type level. . . .

"From a coaching standpoint, I think we have a chance to be a really good team, and if Derrick Mason is a part of it, that makes us even stronger. But if he's not, we're still going to be a really good team. It comes down to Derrick and where his mind is at. He's the only one that can decide that."

NOTE: The Ravens remain in contract negotiations with their unsigned top draft picks: first-round offensive tackle Michael Oher and second-round defensive end-outside linebacker Paul Kruger.

And it's believed that vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty's talks are advancing faster with Oher at this point than with Kruger.

"You know how negotiations can go," Newsome said. "I know Pat's working real hard."


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