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Any way you slice it, the Ravens would do well to have Derrick Mason in purple and black next year.
Since the Ravens are handcuffed in free agency with their status among the “Elite 8” playoff teams, signing Mason for a 14th professional season may be a necessity for the Ravens if they are looking to maintain or improve their wide receiving corps.
That is, if Mason decides he wants to play. Mason retiring would be the worst case scenario. There wouldn’t be any salary-cap savings, considering he will officially be an unrestricted free agent in March. Not to mention that 2010 is likely to be uncapped.
If Mason does want to play, the Ravens may be inclined to bring him back to Baltimore. The Ravens can only sign an unrestricted free agent after it loses one of its own unrestricted free agents because of the final eight triggers. And the team can’t sign that player for more money than the free agent it loses.
Mason reportedly earned $3 million in 2009. But noting his age, he likely could be had for a good deal by the Ravens or other teams.
If he signs with another team, his first-year salary may not be enough for the Ravens to sign a receiver that could better or even equal Mason’s contributions to the Ravens.
Mason is coming off a campaign where he caught 73 balls for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns. He has a solid relationship with quarterback Joe Flacco, is a locker room leader and was the Ravens’ best receiver last year.
Simply put, Mason’s value to other clubs would probably be less than what it is to the Ravens.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have four wide receivers that are restricted or unrestricted, so bringing back some would allow them to pursue free agents at other positions.
Under the CBA limitations, the Ravens would be allowed to sign just one player with a salary of $4.925 million or higher, and they could sign players with a first-year compensation level of $3.2 million that can’t climb any more than 30 percent in the ensuing years. That money could be used elsewhere should Mason come back.
At a position the Ravens need to bolster, not having Mason certainly makes that more challenging.