The sudden retirement of Derrick Mason makes it even more likely that the Baltimore Ravens will make a move for a game-breaking wide receiver to help them in 2009.
Though the Ravens desperately need some help at receiver, there is nobody available for the Ravens right now.
Mason, perhaps one of the most underrated players of 2008, was a huge contributor to the Ravens’ vertical passing game in 2008. Mason had 80 receptions for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns, while Andre Johnson had 115 receptions for 1,575 yards and eight touchdowns. The Ravens threw 433 times, while the Texans threw 555.
On average, Johnson had only 0.7 yards per catch more than Mason. Considering that the Texans throw more often than the Ravens, Johnson and Mason are very comparable.
As if those statistics weren’t enough, keep in mind he put up a lot of those numbers while nursing a shoulder injury that made it much harder to catch every single pass.
With his departure, there is no doubt that the Ravens’ passing offense will suffer. However, receivers capable of having the same impact as Mason aren’t a dime a dozen.
Who could step in and help fill Mason’s shoes?
A terribly sub-par 2008 performance aside, Cincinnati’s Chad Ochocinco could be a huge game-breaker every Sunday.
However, he’s been requesting a trade for years, and if Cincinnati hasn’t heard a trade offer they like yet, then there’s probably little Baltimore could offer to obtain him now that receiver T.J. Houshmanzadeh is in Seattle; Ochocinco is even more crucial to the success of the one-dimensional Cincinnati offense.
Even at the age of 36, Terrell Owens is still capable of dominating the game, but he signed with the Bills this offseason, and teams simply don’t trade players before their first season with the team has even started.
The Patriots have some of the best depth in the league at wide receiver, but none of their receivers will end up in Baltimore. They signed Joey Galloway this offseason, while Wes Welker dominates in the slot, but his size prevents him from being a true No. 1 option. There’s not even the most remote possibility that Randy Moss will ever leave the Patriots.
Though a healthy Patriots' offense, which also added Fred Taylor this offseason, could easily threaten to demolish records they set in 2007, and doesn’t rely on any one receiver, nobody is leaving that offense for a while.
The only other team with receiver depth that even approaches that of the Patriots is the Arizona Cardinals, who had three 1,000-yard receivers in 2008. They won’t trade away Larry Fitzgerald after his record-breaking postseason, but rumor has it that Anquan Boldin was unhappy and wanted to be traded before the draft.
Boldin is the epitome of toughness in a wide receiver. He’s big and physical, has great hands, and fights for yards after the catch. After returning from a devastating hit against the New York Jets that knocked him out, he played spectacularly with metal plates inside his head. He would be a perfect fit in Baltimore, but he’s not going anywhere either.
Fitzgerald and Boldin are both great, but they also benefit from being on the same team together. You can’t really double-team either one of them without giving more room to the other one, and attempts to shut both of them down led to the previously unheralded Steve Breaston having a 1,000-yard season.
The Cardinals have one of the best passing games in the league, but they can’t afford to let any receivers go. Until Chris “Beanie” Wells and the Cardinals’ offensive line can prove otherwise, the Cardinals’ offense has to rely on prolific passing in order to maintain a chance at postseason contention.
Another team with an unhappy receiver was the Cleveland Browns, who were allegedly looking into trading Braylon Edwards before the draft. After trading Kellen Winslow to Tampa, and seeing Donte Stallworth suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Browns are going to rely even more on Edwards to help get the job done through the air.
It's possible that the Ravens may not even want Edwards. Though there is no denying his ability to make big plays, he is also known for dropping too many passes, and he had a less-than-stellar year in 2008. Though part of that is due to severe instability at quarterback, the Ravens still have cause to worry that his 2007 performance was simply a one-season wonder.
Also, it's unlikely that the Browns would trade their top receiver to a division rival, for fears that if Edwards rebounds and blossoms into a top-five NFL WR, then he will embarrass his former team twice a year for many years to come.
Another unhappy camper is Brandon Marshall, who requested a trade from the Denver Broncos due to dissatisfaction with his contract, along with concerns over an alleged misdiagnosis of a hip injury. Yet again, this is one receiver who is not going anywhere.
Josh McDaniels’s reputation as the Broncos’ head coach will forever be tied to his handling of Jay Cutler. As a result, his job stability hinges on the success of Kyle Orton, who the Broncos received in the trade for Cutler. Also, the Broncos' management would be highly embarrassed if the quarterback they received in exchange for Cutler ended up failing in Denver.
For this reason, Orton’s success is the highest priority among everyone in Denver. That’s why the Broncos spent their first draft pick on UGA running back Knoshown Moreno as an every-down back to augment an already-potent offense, as opposed to drafting on the defensive side of the ball where the Broncos were in dire need of help.
On a side note, this draft pick was also savvy because it prevented Moreno from falling to the rival Chargers, who would have been unable to resist him due to LaDainian Tomlinson’s recent history of injuries and ineffectiveness.
Given that Denver desperately needs Orton to have a successful year, it makes no sense to imagine that they would trade their number one receiver away, even in exchange for a first round draft pick. If Orton doesn’t have Brandon Marshall drawing double-teams and allowing the rest of the offense to make plays, Josh McDaniels probably won’t be around in Denver to use that draft pick.
Another option that has been mentioned by fans of every team with a weak receiving corps is the addition of Plaxico Burress. Even if Burress avoids suspension and plays at an elite level, like he did with the Giants from the '07 postseason onward, he will probably end up doing long, hard prison time for quite a while.
Burress broke the law, and deserves to be punished for that. In an earlier article, I mentioned that athletes should carry guns, and I still believe that. I also believe that Burress should have maintained the registration for the gun, which was originally licensed in Florida, and like any normal citizen found with an unlicensed handgun, his failure to maintain the registration warrants punishment.
That being said, some common sense should be applied when deciding how much punishment he should receive. A mitigating factor in deciding his punishment should be that he only hurt himself. If his mishap had injured someone else, he would deserve a harsher punishment, but he was the victim of his own crime.
That being said, I have my doubts that common sense will be used in the Burress case. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg guaranteed that New York would prosecute Burress "To the fullest extent of the law."
When people say that double standards are applied to athletes in the courtroom, they are usually referring to when athletes, such as Donte Stallworth, receive leniency due to their fame. In this case, the double standard went the other way for Burress.
If you or I killed somebody while driving drunk, there is no way we would receive only 30 days in jail. At the same time, if you or I accidentally shot ourselves in a night club, there is no way a mayor would go on TV and vow to throw the book at us.
Bloomberg’s statements were a publicity move to show that celebrity status doesn’t put you above the law. However, being stricter on celebrities due to their status is just as wrong as giving them extra leniency.
Even if Burress makes a plea deal that allows him to serve less jail time, and allows him to serve it during the offseason, he still faces suspension from the league.
Goodell has made it clear time and time again that he will punish anyone whose conduct he feels is detrimental to the league’s image.
If Goodell even lets Burress play at all, he might still bench him for the first four or eight games of the season, so the Ravens wouldn’t get a full season of contribution by signing Burress. All in all, there are too many potential headaches involved with signing Burress for it to be considered a truly feasible option.
Another name that you might hear associated with the Ravens is free agent Marvin Harrison. However, his production has severely declined in the past couple of years and would not be capable of having the same impact Mason did.
Also, Harrison believes he is still worthy of being paid like he is in his prime, which is why he was released from the Colts in the first place. He asked to be released by the Colts because he didn’t want to take a pay cut.
Because Harrison is unwilling to be paid an amount consistent with his expected ability to contribute to a team, it's unlikely that he ends up with any team at all in 2009.
Seeing as there are no truly dominant receivers available right now, it seems the Ravens’ only option for now is to make do with what they have and then try to land a top-tier receiver in the offseason of 2010.