Mason's retirement vaults Clayton's value

July, 13, 2009
Ravens receiver Derrick Mason surprised his team and NFL observers by announcing his retirement Monday. Mason had been adamant about a desire for a new contract -- he was in the final year of his deal -- but claimed he had been "thinking about this since the season ended," adding that "this decision has nothing to do with the contract situation; I have made enough money, more than enough money."

Mark ClaytonJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMark Clayton had 41 catches for 695 yards and three scores in 2008.
This decision almost certainly caught the Ravens unaware; it leaves them with Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams as the receivers atop their depth chart, a circumstance that almost certainly would've caused them to draft a wideout in April, which they did not. If the team's receiving corps stays as currently constituted, Clayton figures to lead the team in targets, though considering how inconsistent he has been in his four-year career (he has topped 48 catches only once), one wonders if he'll be able to take advantage. Williams, an oft-injured project drafted three years ago out of Oregon, has never exceeded 22 catches in a season. He has been on sleeper lists for the past few seasons because he's big (6-foot-2, 197 pounds) and has deep speed, but he hasn't shown that he's capable of shaking leg injuries that have limited him. Joe Flacco's big arm makes Williams a fantasy possibility, albeit a relatively remote one.

And what of Flacco's fantasy value? Mason was still one of the league's most reliable possession receivers, a security blanket Flacco used to the tune of 121 targets, 80 receptions and 1,037 yards (for a relatively modest 12.9 yards per catch) in 2008. The Ravens have spoken this offseason about opening up their offense a bit to take advantage of Flacco's big arm and presumably more advanced knowledge of the pro game, but that's a bit harder to envision now. In truth, both Clayton and Williams are better cast as outside threats who might not always be in the perfect place but who can occasionally make a huge play. It's possible that a smaller guy such as Yamon Figurs could see more time out of the slot as a possession guy, that new tight end L.J. Smith now becomes a more important target, or that Marcus Smith, an '08 fourth-rounder Baltimore likes a lot, could pick up some slack. But certainly this news doesn't help Flacco's fantasy value in a system where the rushing triumvirate of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain was already expected to get a big amount of the workload.

The final question worth asking here is whether the Ravens' hands are completely tied, or whether they still might be able to acquire a new No. 1 receiving target. Brandon Marshall is disgruntled in Denver, Anquan Boldin hates his contract in Arizona and, of course, there's Plaxico Burress, who is still in legal limbo. Maybe GM Ozzie Newsome decides it's time to take care of what has been a pretty shaky receiver situation for several years, and makes one of those teams and/or players an offer they can't refuse. If that winds up happening, and the Ravens essentially "trade" Mason for someone such as Marshall or Boldin, it would probably mean a pretty severe Flacco upgrade. Stay tuned.



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