Mason regarded as top receiver in free agent pool

On the first day of free agency, the Baltimore Ravens took care of the first item on their offseason to-do list, reaching agreement in principle with wide receiver Derrick Mason on a five-year contract.

The contract is worth $20 million and includes a $7 million signing bonus. Mason will be paid $11 million in the first two years of the deal.

"We were high on his list, and he was high on our list,"
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Wednesday. "He was
really the only receiver we have had any active discussions with
thus far. What this does is we bring in a veteran receiver who has
the type of attitude and type of personality that we look for in a
football player."

Over the last three seasons, Baltimore has desperately needed a wide receiver of Mason's caliber, and the acquisition of a proven pass-catcher figures to speed the development of two-year veteran quarterback Kyle Boller.

The Ravens will enter the 2005 season minus both starting wide receivers of a year ago. Seeking to join a team with a more productive passing attack, Kevin Johnson exercised an option to void his contract and become a free agent. Former first-round pick Travis Taylor, a disappointment during much of his five-year career in Baltimore, was allowed to depart as an unrestricted free agent.

Mason, 31, certainly represents a major upgrade for the Ravens, and he likely will be teamed with a young wideout in the starting lineup. With the wide receiver pool getting drier by the day -- some of the top pending free agents at the position recently re-signed with their incumbent teams -- the Ravens moved quickly to pursue Mason, released by the Tennessee Titans last week in the club's bloody salary cap purge.

Baltimore had flirted with the idea of dealing for Randy Moss, but backed off that idea, and then was involved in discussions to land Laveranues Coles of Washington. Mason, however, presented an alternative too attractive for general manager Ozzie Newsome to ignore as he considered methods to enhance a passing attack that statistically ranked 31st in the NFL in 2004.

"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. "When you
take someone of Derrick Mason's caliber, you expect it to have an

Recent reports cited Jacksonville as the front-runner for Mason's services, but a Jaguars team official said Wednesday there had been no substantive discussions with the wideout or his agents.

In eight seasons, Mason has 453 receptions for 6,114 yards and 37 touchdowns. But not even those numbers reflect his overall productivity, since he was primarily utilized as a return specialist early in his career. A fairer measure of Mason's impact are the numbers posted over the past four seasons, which coincide with him becoming a full-time starter.

During that stretch, Mason has averaged 85.8 receptions, 1,152.8 yards and 7.25 touchdowns. He has been over 1,000 yards each of the past four years. His 96 receptions last season led all NFL wide receivers. The former Michigan State star has played in 122 games and started 73 of them.

The leading wide receiver for the Ravens in 2004, Johnson, had just 35 catches. Baltimore hasn't had a wide receiver register more than 61 catches since the 2001 season.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.