OWINGS MILLS — The conflicting emotions of Baltimore Ravens veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason were on full display Monday morning while he cleaned out his locker.
During a span of roughly nine minutes, the 36-year-old went from declaring his plans to retire unprompted to begin the interview to sounding as if he’s leaning toward returning.
There was clarity in the sense that his situation is unresolved as a pending unrestricted free agent, and that he emphasized that he hasn’t made up his mind yet.
“It’s still up in the air, it really is,” Mason said. “Right now, it’s one of those situations where you go home and you think about it and weigh the pros and the cons. If the pros kind of outweigh the cons, then that’s how you make your decision, but I don’t see no cons in this whole process.
“How many opportunities do you have to be part of a great team, a great city and a great organization? Especially in the latter years, you don’t get that many opportunities. So, there’s not too many cons. There’s a whole bunch of pros, so I’ve just got to weigh it that way.”
The two-time Pro Bowl selection began the interview, though, in an unusual manner.
He spun around and told reporters, “I’m done. This is my last season, seriously. I’m going to say it again, ‘This is it. I had a lot of fun. We had a good roll this year. We had a lot of ups and downs. Through it all, I think we stayed together as a team and played as a team.”
On Monday, Mason removed a lot of personal articles from his locker stall with the exception of photographs of his children.
Mason announced last July that he was going to retire and didn’t report to training camp on time.
At the time, he was dealing with a personal family issue and the murder of his friend, Steve McNair. Mason ultimately reported to camp and wound up leading the Ravens with 1,028 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches, finishing second to Ray Rice with 73 receptions.
Mason was asked directly if he was announcing his retirement, and he indicated that he has unfinished business.
“I didn’t win a Super Bowl yet,” Mason said. “I think I’m going to tell you when Ed Reed tells y’all. Ed Reed is 50-50 right now. So, I’m more like 60-40. Nothing’s definite but death and taxes. We’ll see how it goes the next couple of weeks. ..
“I can’t put the percentages on it. Anybody that gives you a percentage, even though I said 60-40, anybody that gives you a percentage, they’re lying. You can’t give a percentage. That’s like saying I’m 80 percent healthy. How do you know you’re 80 percent healthy?”
Minutes before making that statement, Mason made it seem as if he was all but shutting the door.
“I’m possibly done as a player in the NFL,” he said. “I feel good physically, but mentally I’ve got to see what happens from here. Physically, I feel great.
“I don’t know what the Ravens are going to do. I’ve got a week to rest and find something to do out here in this world whether it be here or back in Nashville. I’ve got to find something to do, cut a little grass probably.”
It’s unclear what kind of contract Mason would command on the open market.
His five-year, $20 million contract expired after this season.
It’s possible that some gamesmanship could be at play with Mason wanting to create leverage in talks with the Ravens who are in dire need of wide receivers with Mason and Kelley Washington unrestricted free agents and Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams restricted free agents.
As for whether Mason is serious about retiring, Clayton said that he wouldn’t rule it out.
“I know how competitive he is, but I know his priorities,” Clayton said. “It’s a fun game, but, at the end of the day, the most important thing is your family, making sure you’re nurturing your family.”
Mason remains the Ravens’ top wide receiver as quarterback Joe Flacco’s most trusted target downfield.
“Of course, he has plenty of talent and ability to play,” Washington said. “He still has the passion to make plays, but everybody’s situation is different.”
Because of the likelihood of an uncapped year with the collective bargaining agreement talks reportedly not going well, the Ravens could be severely restricted in their ability to bolster their receiving corps through free agency.
As one of the final eight playoff teams, the Ravens would be unable to sign an unrestricted free agent until they lose one of their own unrestricted free agents. Plus, the team can’t sign that player for more money than the free agent it loses.
The Ravens would be allowed to sign just one player with a salary of $4.925 million or higher. They would be allowed to sign players with a first-year compensation level of $3.2 million that can’t climb any more than 30 percent in the subsequent years.
Signing a restricted free agent wide receiver like the Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall and the San Diego Chargers’ Vincent Jackson or trading for the Arizona Cardinals’ Anquan Boldin looks unlikely.
Among the unrestricted free wideouts: Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens, Muhsin Muhammad and Kevin Walter.
So, holding onto Mason could become a necessity, not a luxury.
Mason didn’t dismiss the possibility of returning to Baltimore for a sixth season.
“There’s always a chance,” Mason said. “I can’t tell you that right now. I enjoy this locker room, I enjoy the guys in this locker room. I enjoy this coaching staff. I enjoy playing here and I enjoy living here. I could see myself, if I choose to, coming back and finishing out my career here.”
Mason said that he hasn’t discussed his plans with coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome or the rest of the coaching staff, but plans to speak with them soon.
He emphasized that he doesn’t want to drag out this process.
“The decision that I make, I’m going to make it quickly and definitively and go from there,” Mason said. “It’s not going to be a drawn-out process. If somebody catches me working out in another week, then I guess I’ve made my decision. If not, then I guess my days of playing football are possibly over.”
Mason has registered 1,000 receiving yards in each of the past three seasons, achieving that mark in eight of the past nine years.
In 13 NFL seasons, the Detroit native has piled up 863 catches for 11,089 yards and 59 touchdowns.
If this is the end, how would he like to be remembered?
“Everybody is going to have their opinions on how they viewed me as a football player and as a person, but I know that when I walk through those doors every day that I came in and enjoyed the game and had fun,” Mason said. “In the midst of enjoyment, I gave it my all. I gave it 100 percent and I practiced and played the way a profession is supposed to practice and play.
“I complained, but that’s me. Through the complaining, there was never a time I didn’t go full speed or that I didn’t try to overcome an injury. So, hopefully, that’s how I’ll be remembered.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.