Mason returns to Ravens

By Jamison Hensley
Updated: August 2, 2009

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Derrick Mason ended his brief but bewildering retirement Saturday, a decision that elevates the Ravens to Super Bowl contenders once again.

The team’s top wide receiver suited up for training camp Sunday, returning to the field only 20 days after abruptly announcing his career was over.

“It was a tough decision, but I think it was a good decision for me to come back,” Mason said in a statement released by the team. “I needed to evaluate my life, football and my career. The last several weeks thinking about it and talking with my family was an important time for me and them.”

Mason added, “I still have an intense fire inside me, and I want to play. My family and I wanted to finish it out the right way. I felt like I had left something undone, and I wanted to finish it. I believe this is a good example for my son and my daughter on how to be thoughtful and also follow through.”

Mason, 35, informed owner Steve Bisciotti of his desire to return Saturday morning and then showed up at the team hotel after the first practice of the day, meeting with coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome for an hour.

Mason’s Maserati, which was parked outside, did not go unnoticed.

“I saw his car,” said director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, “and my heart skipped a beat.”

Mason underwent a physical Saturday and planned on taking the team’s conditioning test afterward. If he passes both — it is believed that Mason has recovered from offseason shoulder surgery — the Ravens would need to cut a player before activating him.

When fans spotted Mason walking into the McDaniel College gym Saturday afternoon, they gave him a standing ovation.

His teammates were equally elated.

“We knew with him coming back, what that would do for us and where it would set us,” receiver Mark Clayton said. “We’re excited about it.”

Mason’s arrival — which came on the second day of full-team practices — came at a fortuitous time. From Justin Harper to Demetrius Williams, the Ravens’ receivers dropped pass after pass in the morning practice.

Then, word of Mason’s return started spreading, catching most of the Ravens by surprise. Mason only told a few players about reporting Saturday, Williams said.

“We’re excited to have him back,” Williams said. “We missed him.”

Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco were not made available for comment Saturday.

Mason shocked the Ravens when he announced his retirement July 13, delivering the news through a Web site owned by his agent.

At that time, Mason explained that he didn’t have the same passion for the game and said he had contemplated retirement since the end of the Ravens’ defeat in the AFC championship game.

On July 13, Mason said, “After 12 years, I have seen it all and done it all. Right now, I am content with the decision I am making. All good things come to an end, and I am ready to see what else life has to offer.”

Some league observers speculated that Mason’s decision was prompted by family issues and the death of Steve McNair. Others contend that it was spurred by money.

Earlier in the offseason, Mason publicly asked for an extension from the team. But general manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed to The Baltimore Sun that Mason didn’t receive any extra money to come back.

Mason has one year remaining on his deal, which will pay him $3 million. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

There were indications that Mason would return to the Ravens. Two weeks ago, Harbaugh said he was “hopeful” that Mason would change his mind after having a sitdown at the receiver’s house. Last week, Flacco said Mason didn’t seem certain about his decision after a recent conversation.

“It’s another piece of the puzzle,” Williams said. “He’s somebody who can get this offense rolling and get this team rolling.”

Since he left the Tennessee Titans as a free agent in 2005, Mason has been the Ravens’ best receiver. He recorded the three highest single-season totals for catches in Ravens history (103 in 2007, 86 in 2005 and 80 in 2008).

Last season, Mason led the Ravens with 80 receptions, nearly doubling the individual total of every other Raven (Clayton had 41 catches). He finished with 1,037 yards and five touchdowns despite playing the entire second half of the season with a shoulder injury.

The two-time Pro Bowl player also became the 31st player in NFL history to reach 10,000 career receiving yards.

“He brings in experience and production,” Clayton said. “We know what we’re going to get when he steps on the field.”

The return of Mason significantly upgrades a receiving group that includes Clayton, Williams, Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington.

So, with Mason back, are the Ravens still actively looking for a receiver?

“I’m always looking to upgrade the talent on this football team,” Newsome said. “Always.”

NOTE: Baltimore Sun reporters Ken Murray and Edward Lee contributed to this article.