With wide receiver Derrick Mason’s stunning retirement, the Baltimore Ravens are left in a position to ponder what their next move will be.
Assuming that Mason’s decision is firm and not some negotiating strategy, the front office will have to make a meticulous move to fill their No.1 wideout’s vacancy in the lineup.
The list of available free agent receivers is full of prominent names. Future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison heads the pack, followed by veterans Amani Toomer and Marty Booker, former Titans Drew Bennett and Justin McCareins, and two of Jacksonville’s former giant targets, Matt Jones and Reggie Williams.
Clearly, Harrison is the most distinguished and accomplished player left on the market. One of the big question marks is whether Harrison is even capable of physically playing the position.
Last season, aside from two long ball receptions, Harrison made little to no impact in the passing game for the Indianapolis Colts. Harrison appeared to lack the quickness and the burst that he used to possess as a deep threat and he was unable to get open. Although he was able to stay healthy, he was a shell of his former self.
If Harrison was even remotely close to the type of player he used to be, he would have been signed by now. If other players with scanter resumes such as Nate Washington and Shaun McDonald were able to land jobs, than it is a mystery as to why one of the greatest receivers of all-time is still on the open market.
Perhaps Harrison does not want to play. After all, it was Harrison who wanted to move on elsewhere after he could not come to an agreement to restructure his contract with Indianapolis. It is quite possible that after months of probing the market, he does not want to go to another team to continue his NFL career. Whatever the case, unless Harrison’s availability is simply a fluke it appears that he is not a viable option.
Bennett, McCareins, Jones and Williams would present the Ravens with bigger targets with the potential to make an impact in the vertical game.
Jones was the most productive player out of this group a year ago and is the most explosive. However, he has never displayed consistent hands, and he has a checkered past. Given that the new coaching regime in Baltimore has shown very little patience with players with issues outside the lines, it is questionable that Jones would get serious consideration.
Williams has been a bust since he came into the league as the No.9 pick of the 2004 NFL draft. He was on the brink of getting cut at the beginning of the 2008 season, and he ended up having a miserable final year with the Jaguars. Although he has great size, Williams is a plodder who lacks the prerequisite quickness to create separation. At this point in his failed career, he could be a better option at tight end.
Neither McCareins nor Bennett ever lived up the promise they had as burgeoning pass catchers who played behind Mason in Tennessee. Both players have struggled with injuries, and at this stage, they are nothing more than backup material.
The same could be said of Booker, who was unable to stay healthy for a good majority of the 2008 season and appears to be in the twilight of his career.
The one person who would make the most sense for the Ravens is Toomer. The former New York Giant still has plenty of gas left in the tank as a reliable possession receiver.
For what quarterback Joe Flacco may miss from Mason, Toomer could bring some of the same elements in the offense. Toomer brings a veteran presence with the ability to consistently catch the ball, make clutch plays and move the chains. He also has the versatility to line up inside as a slot receiver or outside as the X or the Z. Moreover, he has already made a transition as the go-to target to more of a No.2 option in New York, so he would have no trouble filling the same role in Baltimore.
Outside of Toomer, there are some trade routes available for the front office to explore in the coming days before training camp begins. They could reopen talks with the Arizona Cardinals to nab Anquan Boldin and investigate the Denver Broncos’ willingness to move the troubled but talented Brandon Marshall.
The Ravens could also look into contacting the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that John Harbaugh is intimately familiar with. Andy Reid has a surplus of pass catchers, the most intriguing of which would be Reggie Brown, who went from being the team’s No.1 target to being potentially released before the season begins.
However, a potential trade could be a fruitless and time consuming endeavor for a team that needs immediate depth at wide receiver.
If Derrick Mason is genuinely sincere and does in fact walk from the game the crystal ball here says that former Super Bowl XXXV foe Amani Toomer is the best fit.