With Derrick Mason shockingly announcing his retirement a few days ago, the Baltimore Ravens are in a very tough position heading into this season.
This team has very high expectations after making a trip to the AFC Championship last season. They looked like one of the best teams in the NFL all season, despite being lead by a rookie coach and quarterback.
John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco were both expected to step their games up heading into this season and make a push at returning to the AFC Championship, possibly even winning it this time.
But now Flacco has lost his most reliable target on the field and Harbaugh has lost his most vocal leader on an offense that seemed to be improving with each game in 2008.
Some Ravens fans might say that increasing the roles of Mark Clayton and Todd Heap in the passing game should be enough to fill the void that will be left with the departure of the 12-year veteran.
But Heap, despite being one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL, has been very inconsistent throughout his NFL career. And Clayton has underachieved as a No. 2 option in the Ravens offense, so he will undoubtedly struggle being thrown into the No. 1 spot so abruptly.
That's another reason why Mason's announcement is so shocking. He is walking away from his team just a few weeks before training camp starts.
It comes after the NFL Draft. Also, most of the possible receivers that could legitimately fill his shoes in Baltimore have already gone elsewhere in free agency.
So the Ravens are in a very difficult position to decide on how they can possibly go about replacing 2008’s unquestioned leader of the Baltimore offense.
Some have speculated that Mason's injuries have become too much for him and that he does not want to adhere to the beating that he will surely have to endure with a grueling 16-game schedule, plus playoffs.
Some have said that the recent untimely death of his longtime friend and former teammate Steve McNair was the guiding force to Mason's abrupt decision to leave the NFL. That McNair's death has shown him that life can be so short and that every moment that he can possibly spend with his family is another moment that he shouldn't pass up in order to play another year in the NFL.
Whatever his reasoning may be, the Ravens should respectfully wish him good luck in his endeavors from here on out, and they should move on. The beginning of the 2009 season will be coming up real soon. The Ravens, who already had a lack of depth at the wide receiver position with Mason on the roster, now have a gaping hole to fill with No. 85's absence.
The Ravens are known for the strong personalities in their locker room. These two players would maybe fit in better with the Ravens then they would with any other team, so making a move of this nature would be understandable.
Whatever move they make, they need to make it quick. It could be argued that Flacco lacked a dependable No. 1 receiver when Mason was on the roster.
But with Mason gone, there's no argument now.