Two days after demoting Derrick Mason, the New York Jets traded the veteran wide receiver to the Houston Texans for a conditional seventh-round draft pick, two league sources confirmed Tuesday night -- a move that could send a message to the underachieving Jets.
Mason, whom coach Rex Ryan predicted would catch at least 80 passes this season as the Jets' slot receiver, had only 13 receptions in five games. The timing of the trade is curious because of reports over the weekend that portrayed Mason as a malcontent.
Ryan refuted the reports, claiming he wanted to give rookie Jeremy Kerley a chance as the No. 3 receiver. But the Jets' coach also suggested there was more to the decision, hinting that it stemmed from a "private conversation" last week with the receiver.
The Jets refused to divulge the nature of that conversation, but the team was disappointed with Mason because he wasn't learning the playbook as quickly as they had hoped, according to a source. Mason went home to Nashville every Monday and Tuesday to be with his family, and that may have contributed to his struggles, the source said.
Mason had permission from the team to make the weekly trips, a source said. The Jets made the agreement with him in August, when they won a free agent recruiting battle for his services. The Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, his previous teams, wanted to re-sign him.
The Jets figured that Mason, a 15-year veteran who played in a similar offensive system in Baltimore, would be able to handle the transition. But he struggled so much that there were times during games when he didn't know the play, a source said -- and a couple of those instances were caught by the TV cameras.
Mason, who signed a two-year contract ($1.3 million this season), complained after the Week 4 loss to the Ravens, telling reporters that there were "cracks" in the offense. A week later, a published report said he and fellow receivers Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress met individually with Ryan to complain about offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system.
Ryan and the three receivers refuted the story. On Sunday night, ESPNNewYork.com reported that Mason was benched for the first half of the Jets' loss to the New England Patriots because of his postgame comments from the previous week.
The Jets denied that, too, with Ryan claiming that he wanted to give Kerley a chance. The ESPNNewYork.com report also said Mason was in danger of being released. But on Monday, Ryan made it sound like Mason still was part of the team's plans.
"I think Derrick's an excellent receiver and quite honestly ... he'll have his opportunities in the future," Ryan said.
Mason, who usually plays about 50 percent of the snaps as the No. 3 receiver, appeared in only six plays Sunday. He made one catch, which put him over the 12,000-yard mark in career receiving.
"Guys, let's face it, I thought he'd catch 80 to 90 balls and that hasn't happened," said Ryan, alluding to one of his preseason predictions.
The trade leaves the Jets perilously thin at wide receiver, which shows just how badly they wanted to unload Mason. Their No. 4 receiver is the seldom-used Patrick Turner.
The Texans believe Mason will be an upgrade in the slot, due to his route running and hands, a team source told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen. He also could provide insurance for the injured Andre Johnson.
Mason's first game with the Texans will come at Baltimore, where Mason played from 2005-10 and became the Ravens' all-time leader in catches.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley was used in this report.