Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason unexpectedly announced his retirement Monday, ending his 12-year career a few weeks before he was expected at the team’s training camp to begin preparations for the 2009 season. There were reports that Mason was unhappy with his current contract and that may have played a role in his decision. His departure leaves a rather gaping hole at the wide receiver position for a team that was expected to make another deep run in the playoffs.
Mason’s production far exceeded his physical abilities during his career and, although only 5’10″ and 195 pounds, he was extremely durable, missing only six games during his 12 seasons in the league. More quick and shifty than actually possessing deep speed, Mason made his fair share of big plays and despite lacking height was the quintessential possession receiver.
NFL pundits and fantasy football prognosticators often predicted his demise, particularly when he moved from the Titans to the Ravens run-heavy offense four years ago. However, Mason, as he generally always did, proved the naysayers wrong, posting three 1,000 yard seasons during his four years in Baltimore. His loss leaves the Ravens desperately thin at wide receiver and underscores general manager Ozzie Newsome’s inability to produce players at the position during his tenure with the team. Newsome has found tremendous values at every position except wide receiver.
It’s worth noting that the Ravens issued a statement indicating that Mason has not filed his retirement papers with the league. Therefore, there is a chance that he could reverse his decision and be back with the team in 2009.
Fantasy Football Impact
Mason’s retirement clearly vaults Mark Clayton into the role as the team’s number one receiver. Clayton isn’t a big target but he does possess deep speed and he is now a viable option as a number three wide receiver or number four with upside. Clayton has been inconsistent throughout his four-year career although his 2007 season was marred by injuries and personal issues. The 2005 1st round pick now has an opportunity to match or better his 939-yard, five touchdown performance from his second season in the league.
Demetrius Williams moves into the starting line-up and the perennial sleeper now becomes a viable option as your fifth or sixth fantasy wideout. Williams has size and speed but has not been able to remain healthy and missed nine games last year due to an injury to his Achilles’ tendon. During his three years in the league, Williams has missed 16 games and managed just 866 yards and three touchdowns in the 32 games that he’s appeared in. Marcus Smith, a 2008 4th round pick, moves into the third receiver role but he is considered a project and failed to catch a single pass during his rookie season.
Quarterback Joe Flacco clearly takes a hit with the loss of Mason, who was his security blanket at receiver and the team’s top option in the passing game on third down. At this point in their careers, both Clayton and Williams are better deep threats than crafty route runners so that will likely mean more targets for the team’s tight ends and running backs. My revised QB rankings, published just prior to this news, had Flacco as the 24th ranked fantasy quarterback and he will move down barring a move by the team that bolsters their wide receiver depth chart.
L.J. Smith apparently has the inside track to become the team’s starting tight end ahead of Todd Heap and both players figure to benefit from Mason’s departure. However, neither should be considered anything more than low end backups for fantasy purposes. Ray Rice figures to be the team’s top receiving threat at running back and he will likely pick up some of the slack in the passing game.
All of the above is prefaced on the assumption the team’s depth chart remains as currently stands which could be a poor assumption to make. The Ravens have made noises about acquiring Anquan Boldin from Arizona and may also have interest in the Broncos’ Brandon Marshall or free agent Plaxico Burress. The Browns’ Braylon Edwards could be available but they will not trade him to a team in their division.