One of the most intriguing NFL storylines over the next few weeks will revolve around a potential difference-maker -- one who may come out of retirement to don purple for a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
But I'm not talking about that guy. Brett Favre's return seems like a foregone conclusion. I'm talking about wide receiver Derrick Mason, who is still under contract with the Baltimore Ravens even though he released a statement earlier this month announcing his retirement.
Some people are still convinced Mason will play this year and, sadly, I am one of those. I don't believe his intentions of retirement. He spent the last six months rehabbing from shoulder surgery and now, a couple of weeks before training camp, he is going to retire? That just doesn't make sense. Plus, he issued his statement on a never-before-heard-of web site that is affiliated with his agent on the same day he had been in the Ravens' facility. Not exactly how one would have expected Mason to handle his retirement from the game after a 12-year career.
To further complicate matters, Mason and his agent expressed dissatisfaction with his contract after the season and told the Ravens they felt an upgrade was in order. The cynics -- and there are many -- presume this retirement is simply a money grab by Mason. A convenient way to miss a good portion of training camp without getting fined and to then report a couple of weeks before the season once his contract has been adjusted.
Mason's statement on JOCKlife.com, however, pointed out this was not about the money: "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," he wrote.
I hope that's the case. I have no problem with Mason if he told the Ravens he refuses to play at his current compensation level of more than $4 million. That's his prerogative. But I am not OK with him lying, claiming money isn't the issue when his recent actions show otherwise.
Sometimes a player saying it is not about the money is code for simply the opposite. In the player's mind, it is a matter of respect. The player desires to feel respected by his organization for what he has done, and in Mason's case, producing the way he did last season, with a severely injured shoulder, he deserves respect. But there is only one way for the franchise to show that: with a new contract.
There's also speculation about the emotions Mason must have felt following the tragic death of his dear friend Steve McNair. None of us really know the psychological toll that tragedy may be taking on Mason. If he was having any doubts about playing this season, that incident might have been what put him over the edge.
One thing that is clear, though, is his timing couldn't have been worse. The Ravens were already rumored to be kicking the tires in search of available veteran wideouts, such as Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall. That was before they lost Mason, who was a tremendously clutch performer in 2008, catching 80 balls for more than 1,000 yards. He was young quarterback Joe Flacco's security blanket, and his quick exit left the franchise in a lurch. Baltimore is scheduled to work out four wideouts Friday, including D.J. Hackett and DrewBennett. But there's a reason those guys are still available right now, and it's doubtful they would come close to matching Mason's numbers.
If I were a Raven, this sudden void on a team with championship expectations would make me angry. Yes, Mason has the right to retire when and how he sees fit. But I'd be unhappy about the late notice and how it could affect our team and my life. Baltimore is not nearly as good without him. His absence could potentially lead to a disappointing season, which usually means change. What if my roster spot ended up being one of the things that changed adversely in the wake of a down year?
"I can see how some guys would feel that way," second-year running back RayRice told me recently on Sirius NFL Radio. "But I think everyone has to react to it in their own way. All I know is if he does retire, he will do it in a classy fashion, with a press conference and everything."
Only time will tell if Mason is in fact retired and whether this was a product of the emotions surrounding the McNair tragedy, a desire for more money, or both. Right now, the timing is a headscratcher, unless it's directly related to McNair. The hope here is that the end result will allow us to still think of Mason in a decidedly favorable light. He has earned that up to this point.