A year after they failed to land Terrell Owens, the Baltimore Ravens finally added the reliable wide receiver they desperately needed by announcing yesterday that they had reached an agreement on a five-year contract with free agent Derrick Mason.
Mason, 31, has been one of the NFL's most productive wideouts, averaging 81 catches per year over the past five seasons. He's had four straight 1,000-yard seasons and has reached two Pro Bowls, and about a half-dozen teams had been in serious pursuit of him since the Tennessee Titans released him last month as part of a salary cap purge.
Derrick Mason, a salary cap casualty of the Titans, is a two-time Pro Bowler and is headed to Baltimore.
(John Russell - AP)
"The signing of Derrick Mason is the most substantial move we've made, particularly in free agency, particularly at the wide receiver position," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said during a news conference.
The Ravens ranked 31st among 32 teams in passing offense last season. That might have been different if they'd been able to obtain Owens last offseason. The Ravens completed a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for the controversial but gifted wide receiver. A dispute over Owens's claim that he should have been a free agent, however, led to the deal being overturned and Owens instead was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, whom he helped reach last month's Super Bowl.
Baltimore didn't have a receiver with more than 35 catches or 421 receiving yards last season. Mason had 96 receptions (second in the league to the 102 of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez) for 1,168 yards and seven touchdowns.
The only questions about Mason entering free agency were his age and his size (he's listed at 5 feet 10 and 192 pounds). But, with Muhsin Muhammad having already signed with the Chicago Bears after being released by the Carolina Panthers, he and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Plaxico Burress clearly were the best wide receivers left on the unrestricted free agent market. Mason had visited the New England Patriots and reportedly had been in touch with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings.
The Bengals, thwarted in their effort to sign Mason, re-signed free agent wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Ravens officials said the deal was completed Tuesday night. It was announced on the first day of the NFL's free agency and trading periods, although players who were released -- such as Mason -- were eligible to sign with new clubs earlier.
The trade of wide receiver Randy Moss from the Vikings to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napoleon Harris and two draft choices, including the seventh overall selection in April, officially was completed. So was a trade sending Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round selection.
The free agent signings came fast and furious. The Raiders got a running-game complement to Moss by agreeing to a five-year, nearly $28 million contract with former Maryland tailback LaMont Jordan, who backed up Curtis Martin with the Jets.
Dallas bolstered its defense by agreeing to five-year contracts -- with bonus money totaling $19 million -- with two sought-after free agents, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson of the Jets and cornerback Anthony Henry of the Browns. The Cowboys also re-signed defensive tackle Leonardo Carson and safety Lynn Scott. Another top defensive tackle, Pat Williams of Buffalo, agreed to a three-year, $13 million deal with the Vikings, and the Jaguars got defensive end Reggie Hayward of Denver for a five-year, $25 million agreement. Jacksonville also added defensive tackle Martin Chase, who'd been released by the Giants.
A day after being released by Dallas, linebacker Dexter Coakley agreed to a five-year, $14.5 million contract with St. Louis. The Eagles re-signed tailback Correll Buckhalter, and Houston re-signed defensive tackle Seth Payne. Cleveland added guard Joe Andruzzi, formerly of the Patriots. Tailback Ron Dayne was close to leaving the Giants to sign with the Texans, and the Jets and 49ers were competing for free agent left tackle Jonas Jennings of the Bills.
The Patriots, meantime, apparently were nearing an agreement with quarterback Tom Brady on a mammoth contract extension. The three-time Super Bowl winner's current deal runs through the 2006 season. New England also had a tentative agreement to trade a third-round draft pick in April to Arizona for cornerback Duane Starks.