Ultimately, the veteran wide receiver came to the conclusion that his best move was to run a comeback route to Baltimore.
So, he agreed to terms on a two-year, $8 million contract on March 10.
“For me, it was a no-brainer to sign back because I don’t think there was any other opportunity as good as this one,” Mason said Wednesday during his first press conference since rejoining the team last month. “I don’t think there was any other team that intrigued me more than this team here. For me to go anywhere else would have been a step back for me. It’s a joy and an honor for me just to be a part of this team and a part of this organization.”
Mason, 36, caught 73 passes for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
And he ranks first in franchise history in receiving yards with 4,975 and second in career receiving touchdowns with 22 and career receptions with 410.
“When you look at the number of free agents that have been brought into Baltimore over the 15 years that we’ve been here, I don’t think there has been any of them that have been more productive over a span of five years,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We could name players that have impacted the team, but not for the amount of time that Derrick has.”
Mason briefly contemplated retirement after last season where he dealt with injuries.
Following an emotional AFC divisional playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Mason was frustrated and wondering about the future.
He entered last season on an emotional note after abruptly retiring for a few weeks while he dealt with personal issues and grieved the death of his friend, former NFL quarterback Steve McNair. He also had undergone offseason shoulder surgery.
This year, he’s healthy in body and mind.
"I don’t think it was so much physically, I think it was mentally did I want to play again," Mason said. "Mentally, I was getting tired a little bit, but I think it was so because of the run that we made at the end of the season and what we had to go through to get to the playoffs. I think it was more so that than anything.
"But you have time to think about it and reflect and you understand that this is a game that you love and you can still play it at a high level. Especially in my situation, because I haven’t won a championship, I wanted to give myself an opportunity with the personnel that we have to win a championship."
Mason is due a $1.5 million base salary this year and $4.5 million in 2011, according to NFL Players Association figures.
Mason said he intends to fulfill both years of his contract, and perhaps play five more years.
“The only thing I kept hearing was, ‘He’s 36, he’s 36, he’s 36,’ and I kept putting myself in that 36 box,” Mason said. “I was not just going to be a flash in the pan. That’s what I hold on to before I even started playing. That was 11 years ago, and lo and behold, I’m still playing at a high level. I hold on to that, knowing that you can try to put me in a box, but I’m not going to stay there. I feel 28, as opposed to 36.”
Despite rumored interest from the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, nothing concrete materialized for Mason at the start of free agency.
It wasn’t long before the two-time Pro Bowl selection instructed his agent to hammer out a deal with Baltimore and accept a two-year contract offer that was available to him before the start of the signing period.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you a story,” Mason said. “When you sit back and you think about it, the first day of free agency goes by and you’re like, ‘Wow, what’s going on?’ Then the second and third and fourth day, you start to realize that, man, there might be a possibility that you’re going to someone else.
“Then you start to hear things about, ‘you’re not a priority,’ and ‘you should have taken a deal when he offered you a deal,’ you start to think, ‘Wow, it might be a chance that I might go somewhere else.’ You accept it. The flirtation is there, but in the front of your mind you’re like, ‘I hope we can get this thing worked out where I can return to a place that I know has a legitimate shot at winning the championship.’”
Mason has operated as the primary downfield threat for both of quarterback Joe Flacco’s first two NFL seasons.
Now that the Ravens have acquired three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin via a trade and signed deep threat Donte’ Stallworth, Mason won’t have to shoulder the load alone.
That means he won’t always be the first option on every passing play anymore.
Mason said he still envisions having a significant role, albeit perhaps one that won’t be as substantial statistically.
“This is my analogy right here,” Mason said. “You’ve got your favorite pair of pants, right? And just because you go buy a new pair of pants, do you go away from that favorite pair of pants? No, you don’t. You know that favorite pair of pants is going to work for you each time. That’s how it is.”
Asked what he would do if there’s a hole in those pants, Mason smiled.
“You are still going to wear them,” he said. “I have found if you buy a good pair of pants the likelihood of them having a hole in them is very slim. If you pay $200 or $300 for a pair of jeans, they are going to last a very long time.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh emphasized that there will be plenty of passes to go around.
“To me, the analogy is more like a glass of water,” Harbaugh said. “You’re going to try to fill all these guys up. Derrick’s glass is going to be full, Anquan’s glass is going to be full, Donte’s glass is going to be full.”
Mason has reached the 1,000-yard mark for eight of the past nine seasons.
He has averaged 82 receptions for 995 yards over the past five years.
Ideally, the Ravens would have at least two wide receivers reach that 1,000-yard milestone.
“Other guys got to get the ball and that’s great because I want to win,” Mason said. “I want to win a Super Bowl. Point blank, that’s it. Does say we’re going to totally go away from me? No. We’re all going to get our opportunities.”
NOTES: Mason said he spoke to free safety Ed Reed, but didn’t find out if he’s coming back or retiring. “I hope he doesn’t retire because I don’t think there’s another safety that, especially in the last 10 years, has played the way Ed has played at such a high level for so long,” Mason said. … Morehouse offensive tackle Ramon Harewood, a 6-foot-6, 341-pound native of Barbados who grew up playing rugby, cricket, volleyball and soccer, has visited the Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dallas Cowboys. Harewood has also conducted private workouts for the New Orleans Saints and the Ravens. Once thought of as a priority free agent, Harewood is now regarded as a late-round draft pick. Harewood has run the 40-yard between 5.0 and 5.1 seconds. Despite his size, Harewood has run the 40-yard dash in the 5.0 to 5.1 range. He has bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times and has posted a 9-3 broad jump. …Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes has signed his original round low restricted tender.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.