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Last year when Derrick Mason fought through a shoulder injury for the benefit of his team he shared that his son was a motivating force behind his ability to expand his threshold of pain. In so many words Mason would explain that he wanted to teach his child that there are obstacles in life that need to be navigated and for Mason, a shoulder separation was just one of those obstacles.
His efforts were borderline heroic.
Fast forward to July 13, 2009 and we learn through the website of Mason's agent Lamont Smith (JOCKlife.com) that the two-time Pro Bowler has decided to retire.
My immediate thought was that Steve McNair's death deeply affected Mason on many levels. Perhaps he had an epiphany of sorts and concluded that there are far more important things in his life than playing football.
But then I read this from JOCKlife.com...
"I have been thinking about [retiring] since the season ended. Emotionally I am just not that enthused. I have not been that enthused to get up and work out...it was getting to that point. This decision has nothing to do with the contract situation; I have made enough money, more than enough money. Emotionally there are things that are more important. It's time right now. I don't know what's going to happen from here, but it's going to be really nice to see what life has in store for me. What I want people to remember about my NFL career is that I played hard...played hard in practice and the game. I tried to make everyone better and would do anything to help."
The timing of this surprise announcement is suspicious to say the least.
Why did Mason wait this long?
A player who had walked and talked team; one who embodies the underlying meaning of the franchise's new mantra, "What's our name?"; a player hell bent on setting an example for his son pulls the rug out on his team? What kind of message is THAT for his son? If the idea of retirement has genuinely been on his mind this long, why not tell the team? Might they have approached the draft a little differently? Dealt with Anquan Boldin more aggressively?
It doesn't add up.
It flies in the face of all Mason stands for.
There must be something more than a lack of enthusiasm for the game going on here, right?
Oh you better believe it!
It's about money and Mason's statement through his agent's website is a classic example of passive aggressive behavior.
Let's think about this from the agent's perspective...
Agents don't make money by announcing retirements. When players with gas in the tank like Mason start talking retirement, agents do all they can to snap them out of their momentary lapse of reasoning. They usually leave such announcements up to the team after the player has officially informed the league. Retirement to an agent is like daylight to a vampire; kryptonite to Superman.
If such an announcement can jumpstart stalled contract extension discussions, an agent will plunk down that trump card faster than a speeding bullet.
Just a few weeks ago Mason, while discussing the rehabilitation of his shoulder injury, Mason had this to say about his availability for opening day:
"We'll see. I guarantee you, I'll be ready for the first game, that's all I can say. I'll be ready by the first game. Everything else, I'll just play it by ear."
Mason would later expand upon his projected status for the opener against Kansas City.
"You never know with Superman. I can come out with the cape and it could be the first day or the second week. You never know, but I'm optimistic that when it's time to play, I'll be able to play whenever it is. I'll be able to play when we play Kansas City."
Does Superman ever go into the phone booth and emerge as Clark Kent?
Do these sound like the words of a player contemplating retirement?
Despite rehabbing his shoulder, he attended nearly all of the team's voluntary OTA's.
He was a regular participant in the team's offseason conditioning program. Mason was even in Owings Mills yesterday and according to the Ravens' official website he spoke to a few team officials after his workout and left the building just before 3PM.
And shortly thereafter, Lamont Smith posted the retirement announcement.
It blindsided the team.
Both Smith and Mason know that the team's Achilles' heel is the position of wide receiver. If Mason bails, the depth at the position drops significantly.
A team that arguably finished four minutes removed from the Super Bowl last season and with so much promise for 2009 just took a major blow before training camp even begins.
"I have had a tremendous career and I played for two great teams, I had fun. In my career, I have been able to do everything but win a Super Bowl. I've had the opportunity to play on great teams and with great players. After 12 years, I have seen it all and done it all," Mason stated. "Right now, I am content with the decision I am making. All good things come to an end and I am ready to see what else life has to offer."
Mason is an emotional player and we've seen outbursts from him in the past, particularly when he wasn't seeing the ball as much. It's possible that this is another of those emotional outbursts stemming from his inability to land that contract extension and the loss of a friend.
But more than anything else, this announcement seems like a charade - a staged drama that will achieve its intended objective.
It's a shame that the Ravens let it get this far with Mason. His importance to the offense, to their franchise quarterback, performance that belies his age and his dedication should have been rewarded by now. Instead the Ravens find themselves with a gaping hole in their flank on the negotiating chess board. So far given Ozzie Newsome's absence (he's on vacation), the team's only response was terse and unemotional.
"For any player to retire, he has to send a letter to the NFL stating this, said Ravens Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations, Kevin Byrne. "Derrick Mason has not done that."
For the record, if Mason does follow through and retires, the Ravens will realize a cap savings of $3 million. Perhaps then they'll turn their attention towards a player like Marvin Harrison. And if you are wondering if Mason will pull a Brett Favre and go back to Tennessee or end up in Indianapolis or something along those lines, don't!
The Ravens will more than likely place Mason on the Reserved/Retired List which would enable them to retain his rights for the remaining year of his contract - regardless of when he would try and come back whether it's next year or 3 years from now.
This story, this chess match is hardly over.
You might say that it's just beginning and for the moment it's advantage Mason.
And another lesson learned by Little Mase...