General manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome's opening statement:
"This is an opportunity where I can share a few remarks on Derrick. Again, just as I talked about Samari [Rolle] yesterday, [Derrick is] a player that you see in college, you compete against, and then you get a chance to have him as your teammate, I mean as a part of the team. It's kind of different in today's time, but with Derrick, I think when you look at the number of free agents that have been brought into Baltimore over the 15 years or the 14 years that we've been here, I don't think there are any of them that have been more productive over a span of time – four years, am I correct? *– *five years, for that many years, to be that productive. I think – for those of us that have been around – that we can name players that have impacted the team, but not for the amount of time that Derrick has. And I think the other thing that has been enjoyable about Derrick is that not only has he been productive on the field, he's probably been one of the most productive players off the field in all of the things that he gets involved in, in the community. So, when I look back over my tenure and I start to talk about players that I'm glad to be a part of, to have been a part of, then Derrick is going to be one of those people."
Head coach John Harbaugh's opening statement:
"Well, just to take it more to the football part of it, obviously we've had a chance to be here together for two years, and we've had some amazing moments – just up and down and all around. Big games, the injury that [he] fought through toward the end of the first year in Dallas – I think everybody remembers that. And this year, just the great plays… I can think off the top of my head, the catch against New England when [he] was upside down [in] the first New England game. Those are the things that define Derrick Mason, certainly as a wide receiver. And as a wide receiver, Derrick was a free agent, and he was on the market, and we wanted to strengthen our football team, and we couldn't do it with a better football player than Derrick Mason. I mean, we know exactly what kind of player he is, because we've been together all these years, beginning the last two years, so we know what kind of a player we're getting. So, that strengthens our football team. As a coach, you want to have as many good players as you can possibly have, and Derrick is a great player. So, we think our receiving corps becomes that much better than it was last year with the guys we've added. That's a big plus, and we don't take that for granted, the fact that we signed a big-time free agent right here in Derrick Mason. And then the other stuff – the leadership, the ability to teach the young players, bring the young receivers who learn from him every day [who] watch the way he works, the work ethic in the weight room, the conditioning part of it. I've never seen a guy… We all know that Derrick's not a rookie – he's been in the league a few years – and yet he's out there and practices like a young guy. He practices like a guy that's been in the league [for] three, four, five years. He can run all day, and that's a testament to good DNA and genes, but also tremendous work ethic and the way he trains in the offseason. So, he's just the total package – receiver, person, family man, the whole thing. And I know that everybody here in this organization, and really probably I would say in the city of Baltimore, is proud that he's a Baltimore Raven and will continue to be a Baltimore Raven, and I just can't wait to see what he does over the course of the next couple years."
WR Derrick Mason opening statement:
"Well, the next couple of years will be great. I guarantee that – especially when we win a championship this upcoming season. But, I really do enjoy… I've enjoyed my last five years here. It's been wonderful. I've had an opportunity coming from one great organization to another. And you don't get an opportunity – the players don't get an opportunity – it's rare that you get an opportunity to go from one organization that you fell in love with to another organization that just embraced you and you fell in love with. So, I've been fortunate. I've been blessed to come into a situation where from top to bottom – management, people in the lunchroom, equipment guys, everybody around here, even the media – they've been very supportive and they've opened their arms to me, and to I think the other free agents that have come in here. So for me, it was a no-brainer to sign back [with Baltimore], because I don't think there was any other opportunity that was as good as this one, considering who we have on the football field and the personnel, the coaching staff we have, and upper management. I don't think there was any other team that intrigued me more than this team here. I know what to expect from the coaches. The coaches know what to expect from me, and the players know what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from them. So, for me to go anywhere else I think would have been a step back, for me. So, I really feel like a rookie again, because I got an opportunity to go through free agency for a quick period, and now come back to a place, building, that I'm very familiar with. It's a joy and an honor for me just to be a part of this team and a part of this organization."
How do you feel about the additions that have been made at wide receiver this offseason?
*(MASON) *"I feel great about it. You know, you bring in Donte' [Stallworth], and he has a history of being very productive with several clubs. [He] started off in New Orleans, and then going to Philly and being very productive. I can remember him in his rookie year down in New Orleans – the guy was highly productive. And then going to New England and being on that team, being very productive as well. So, to get a guy that has been that productive in a short amount of time, it always enhances your room. And then, of course, you bring in Anquan [Boldin]. This guy's been a Pro Bowler for two or three years in this league, and the numbers that he put up his rookie year, and what he continued to do over his, I think it's what, six or seven years now, going on eight? It's kind of unheard of at his position. He's been consistent, and that's all you can ask [for] in a player. So, to add him and to still have Mark [Clayton] in the room with us… And the good think about Mark is, I know what I'm going to get out of Mark, and I know what to expect from Mark. And I think this season, Mark will only get better considering the guys that we brought in and another year under this system. So I feel great, just like the coaches. They feel great about the acquisitions that have come into that receiving room. Now, that's one less area that everyone doesn't have to worry about now. Hopefully we won't be browbeaten every game about things we could have done, or even when we do do good, they find a way to put it back on us. So, hopefully now we can kind of shift – if any blame, hopefully there won't be any blame – but any blame it won't be shifted toward the receiving room."
How seriously did you consider retirement and what ultimately convinced you to play football again?
(MASON) "I considered it after the season. I don't know if it was so much physically, because physically I felt great after the season. I felt like a rejuvenated young man, and I still feel that way. This last season was hard because in the offseason I had to deal with an injury, and that was hard because I have never done that before. But this season I entered the offseason injury free and my body felt great. So I don't think it was so much physically, I think it was just mentally, 'Did I want to play again?' Mentally, I was getting tired just a little bit, but I think it was more so because of the run we made towards the end of the season and what we had to go through to get to the playoffs. I think it was just that and losing a heartbreaker in [Indianapolis]. I think it was that more so than anything. But, you [have] time to think about it and reflect, and you understand that this is a game that you love and you still can play it at a high level. When you can play it at a high level, you want to continue to go out there and play it – especially in my situation because I hadn't won a championship. I wanted to give myself an opportunity with the personnel that we have to win a championship."
Can you really play two more years?
(MASON) "Man, I could play five more years, you know? (laughter) And the crazy thing about it is that for a second there I allowed you guys to put me in a box, for a quick second there, because the only thing I kept hearing is, 'He's 36, he's 36, he's 36,' and I kind of put myself in that '36' box."
That's why you retired last year? (laughing)
(MASON) "Had a little bit to do with it. (laughter) Yeah, but then I start to think there was a word many years ago prophesied over me that I was not just going to be a flash in the pan, and that is what I hold on to. And that is before I even started playing. That was 11 years ago. Low and behold, I am still playing at a high level. So, I hold on to that knowing that you can try and put me in a box, but I am not going to stay there, because I understand and know that what I do in the offseason allows me, with the blessings that I've been given, allows me to play at a high level. So I am not going to allow you to put me in a '36' box. I feel 28 as opposed to 36."
In contemplating retirement, did you think about what else you would do, like sticking around in football?
(MASON) "It would in some facet be in football, but there are some other things that I have, that I can do back in Nashville. So I didn't really necessarily have to be in football, but I enjoy being around the sport. I enjoy talking about the sport, so my guess is that I would have been behind the microphone. I wouldn't have been hard on the Ravens, but I would have told it like it is. (laughter) No, I mean my thing is I wouldn't criticize a team or an individual because I understand and I know what it is to go through a grueling season. Those are things that I would have been able to do, some things that business-wise I have lined up that I can do, as well as commentating about sports, post- and pre-."
Do you feel this is your final contract, or do you feel you can play beyond that?
(MASON) "I don't think about it. I can't think about it beyond two years. That's too far ahead. I'm worrying about this season, and I think that this is what the coaches just want me to worry about, this upcoming season. I can't start thinking about the season after that or if I want to play two more years. After this contract, that will put me at 37 [years old], so I can't think about that. I [have] to think about the task at hand, and that's playing this season and trying to win a championship. Whether I can play two years from now – which I probably could – I'm not going to doubt myself. But do I want to think about that right now? No, because I think that is a distraction to myself and a distraction to the team."
How do you view your role going into the season with the changes at wide receiver?
(*MASON) *"I think it is the same. Obviously, there are other guys out there that can make plays, but this is how I see it, this is my analogy right here: You've got your favorite pair of pants, right? And just because you go and buy a new pair of pants, do you go away from that favorite pair of pants? No you don't, because you know that favorite pair of pants is going to work for you each time. That's how it is."
What if you get a hole in that pair of pants?
(MASON) "You are still going to wear them. You are still going to wear them. But, I have found if you buy a good pair of jeans, the likelihood of them having a hole in them is very slim. So if you pay $200 or $300 for a pair of jeans, they are going to last a very long time. You are not going to have that many holes in them no matter what you do. And that's the analogy, and that is how I see it here. We acquired two great individuals, not just football players, but, I think, individuals. But does that mean Mason is all of the sudden, his role is diminished? Other guys [have] to get the ball, and that is great and I am all for it because I want to win. I want to win a Super Bowl – point blank that is it. But does it say, 'Well, we are totally going to go away from this guy?' No. You look at Indy – they've had three guys that have been very productive all in one season. You look at the Cardinals, where Anquan came from – they've had three guys be very productive all in one season. You go back to Minnesota, when they had three or four wideouts and all three of those guys were very productive, and they had a great running back who was productive. It is possible that it can happen, but that's something I can't think about. I can't, because if I do, then like I said, it becomes a distraction. So I let it come. We are all going to get our opportunities, and we've just got to make the best out of each and every one of them. Now it goes from you getting 10 opportunities to maybe seven. So, I mean, you can ask Anquan the same question, and I guarantee he would give the same answer. It went from 10 in Arizona, and it might go to seven now because of who we have in the backfield and the other guys. But, you've got to make the best of the opportunities that you get."
Derrick, you mentioned your emotions after the loss to the Colts and how that, at the time, may have affected your thoughts on retirement. Do you feel like that's the same case with Ed Reed, that his emotions after that loss might have him leaning toward retirement, but that he might come back like you did?
*(MASON) *"I don't know what Ed's decision is. I spoke with him last week, but it was not really about football. It was just talking. But, Ed is a very emotional person. He was emotional at half time [during the playoff game at Indianapolis], and you could tell that he was very disappointed at how the game was going. His fire and his passion for the game were showing. It probably has a little bit to do with it, but there are other factors that come with that that cause a guy to contemplate retirement. It's not just solely one game, and I know in Ed's case, it's not just solely the Indianapolis game. Emotionally, was he probably drained? Just like everybody else. I don't think that that was the sole reason for him wanting possibly to retire. I hope he [doesn't], because I don't think there's another safety that, especially in the last 10 years, that has played the way Ed has played at such a high level for so long."
Coach, you're adding two big pieces in Anquan Boldin and Donté Stallworth, but what does keeping Mason do for Joe Flacco's development?
*(HARBAUGH) *"I've said this before, and I know Derrick feels this way… I know Ozzie feels this way: Great players – these two guys were actually great players, so they could speak to this – but, I think great players like adding great players, because that's what makes your team better and gives you a chance to be a better football player, be as good as you can be. I've never seen a great player who didn't want to have another great player on his football team. I think Derrick feels that way. Anquan, Joe feels that way. Joe's got to get better in his own right. We've talked about that before. He's working hard to do that. These guys are going to give him a chance to do that. One thing I thought was a good question about the catches and the receptions, and Derrick answered real well, but it's not a piece of the pie. It's not like if one guy gets a bigger piece the other guy gets a smaller piece. To me, the analogy is more like a glass of water. You're going to try to fill all these guys up. Derrick's glass is going to be full, Anquan's glass is going to be full, Donté's glass is going to be full, Mark's glass… And [you] try to fill these guys up and help them be the best player they can possibly be. That's how your team becomes as good as it can be, and that's how these guys look at it."
Derrick, you're a very strong locker room leader, and by all accounts from Arizona, Anquan is as well. How do you see that dynamic working out?
(MASON) "I think when you have two guys that are good leaders in the locker room, it works automatically. There's no way that it doesn't work, because you guys don't bump heads about anything because you both have the same common goal. That's like saying, 'Well, Mason and Ed Reed or Mason and Ray Lewis bump heads because they're so passionate about the game and their locker-room presence is felt.' No. Two leaders should never bump heads if you all [have] got the same common goal. And it's the same with Anquan. I've spoken with [Larry] Fitzgerald, and he said, 'You're getting a great guy, a great locker room guy.' Obviously, we're getting a great player, but we're getting a great locker room guy. That's all you can ask for, is for a guy to come in the locker room and all of a sudden he meshes with everybody right off the bat and his presence is felt. You can never get upset or bump heads with something like that, because you both have the same common goals, and that's to win a football game."
Is this the most complete offense, at least on paper, that you've had in Baltimore?
*(MASON) *"On paper, yeah, I think so – not taking away from anybody else or any other team that we've had. You can go back to '06 when I think we went 13-3. We had a complete team, I thought. We had some guys that could run the ball very effectively, some guys that could make plays on the outside. Of course Todd [Heap] could make plays on the inside. We were very complete in that aspect on paper, and then we made it happen on the field. Right now, yeah, we are a complete team on paper, but we have to make it happen on the field. Everything looks good on paper at the beginning of the season, but unless you put in the time and effort that it takes to make your team go, 'on paper' means nothing, because when you get on that field it doesn't work. You can go all the way back to… You think of the Redskins when they acquired all these guys several years ago, that on paper they were a great team. It just didn't work out because they didn't mesh. But, with this team, we mesh. It's great on paper. So hopefully, and truly I have a lot of confidence that when we go out on the field that presence will be felt from the offense as well as the defense and the special teams unit."
Did you have any "flirtation" during this free agency period?
*(MASON) *"Of course. I'm not going to sit here and tell you a story. Of course, because when you sit back and you think about it, the first day of free agency goes by and you're like, 'Wow, OK. What's going on?' Then the second and third and fourth day… But then you start to realize that, man, there might be a possibility that you're going to someone else. Not to say that you are, but you have to keep your mind open. And then when you hear things about 'you're not a priority' and 'you should have taken a deal when he offered you a deal,' you start to think, 'Wow, OK. It might be a chance that I might go somewhere else.' You think about it, you accept it. But, you understand that they're just doing – meaning the Ravens – they're doing what they need to be doing to make this team better. And by making this team better – meaning going out and getting Anquan and Donté – and then finally allowing me to come back here and finish out my career. So, you can never be mad at that. They made decisions that they thought were the best for the team, and bringing me back was one of them. The flirtation is there, but in the front of your mind you're like, 'I hope we can get this thing worked out where I can return to a place that I know has a legitimate shot of winning the championship.'"
Based on the movements you've made so far at wide receiver, which other receivers can we expect back from last year's team?
*(NEWSOME) *"I think that's an unfair question for me to answer, because as John and I put the team together – and he and I talk basically every day about our football team – I always try to impress upon John and he does impress upon me [that] we are going to keep the best 53 players. That's how we've always tried to build a roster. So, we don't sit here and say, 'We're going to have four, we're going to have five, we're going to have six [receivers].' We're going to keep the best 53 players. So whoever they are and what the makeup of that position is going to be, I have no idea. Neither does John at this point. But, it's going to be very competitive. We do know that, and anytime you do have competition, it just makes the team better."