Derrick Mason Retires a Baltimore Ravens Legend, but Is the Hall of Fame Ahead?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVJune 11, 2012


Former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason retired as a Raven on Monday after a 15-year career in which he played for four teams (two in 2011).

The most prolific Ravens receiver in the franchise's young history, Mason had 5,777 total receiving yards and 29 touchdowns in his six seasons in Baltimore.

Before coming to the Ravens, Mason spent eight years with the Tennessee Titans, and he spent last season with both the New York Jets and Houston Texans, but he chose to retire a Raven because that's where his heart has always been.

Mason is the most recent veteran AFC North wide receiver to retire this year; the Pittsburgh Steelers' Hines Ward also gave up the game in March, calling an emotional press conference in Pittsburgh to break the news.

Like Ward, now that Mason has retired, discussion will begin in earnest as to whether he'll someday be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As with Ward, there are reasons to believe that he will and that he won't.

As a Tennessee Titan, Mason racked up over 5,000 return yards.
As a Tennessee Titan, Mason racked up over 5,000 return yards.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Mason was more than a wide receiver—he was also a returner, at least during his time in Tennessee, where he had a total of 5,086 punt and kick return yards and three touchdowns. He's the only receiver in NFL history to have over 10,000 receiving yards and 5,000 return yards, milestones which certainly help his Hall of Fame case.

But the problem with Mason getting in the Hall has less to do with his career stats and more to do with the position he played. It's simply difficult for Hall of Fame voters to induct receivers—since 2000, only seven wide receivers have been named to the Hall. Only one has been a first-ballot inductee (Jerry Rice), and one was a senior inductee (Bob Hayes).

Rice is probably the greatest receiver to play the game and retired with 10,000 more receiving yards than Mason has. While those return numbers give Hall voters another reason to consider Mason, their aversion to receivers all but guarantees that he won't get in on the first ballot.

Just as today's coaches (and fans) tend to look at productive running backs as dime-a-dozen (no matter how shortsighted that approach may be), Hall voters feel the same way about wide receivers. That's why players like Mason and Ward, who have over 12,000 career receiving yards and other reasons worth considering, may have a hard time ever making it into the Hall.

Productivity such as Mason's isn't worth ignoring. While one argument against him getting into the Hall of Fame lies in the fact that any receiver who started for that long should have over 10,000 career yards, there's a corollary to that criticism—that it's not all that common for any player, let alone a receiver, to be a productive starter for that long.

Generally, receivers slow down too much to warrant giving them a starting job after 10 years in the league. But players like Mason—with good hands, pitch-perfect route running and toughness (Mason never missed a single game while in Baltimore)—don't seem to lose a step nearly as fast as most of their counterparts.

But this may not matter to Hall voters—at least not right away. While receivers like Mason certainly have their place in the Hall and shouldn't get short-changed the way they have in recent years, it's going to take quite some time before he gets his gold jacket.