Fresh off their season-ending 20-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens must now turn their attention to building their roster for 2010.
Considering that their top four receivers are all coming up on some form of free agency, the analysis could and should begin there.
And should a new collective bargaining agreement fail to pass before a March deadline, **Mark Clayton** and **Demetrius Williams** will both become restricted free agents, a designation that means the Ravens would have the ability to match any offer from an outside team or gain a draft pick as compensation should they sign elsewhere.
Needless to say, it is doubtful that all four will be back in purple and black.
"It's going to be tough bringing everybody back, but that's just part of football," Washington said. "Every team goes through that every year. Especially with our receivers being free agents, I don't expect everybody to be back. There are always going to be changes, and everybody has to put themselves in the best situations. That's the thing about free agency. You get a chance to evaluate your situation professionally."
For the sake of quarterback Joe Flacco!(/team/roster/joe-flacco/3e20766f-6520-4ca1-9901-44389aaea8b8/ "Joe Flacco")'s development, the Ravens hope to have some semblance of continuity among the group, while adding a much-needed playmaker via the draft or free agency.
Neither Clayton, a first-round draft pick in 2005, nor Williams, a fourth-rounder in 2006, became the dominant forces Baltimore expected in their second year playing with Flacco. Clayton caught only 34 passes for 480 yards this season, and Williams added a mere eight grabs for 142 yards. They combined for three touchdowns.
"[Receivers are] a very important part of this team, as it is with every team," Clayton conceded. "I know that it needs to be strong, and the position that we're in, we're probably going to have to go find a guy that can come in and be a straight playmaker."
No matter what, each player understands the only way to ensure a new contract is to perform on the field. They are leaving the business side of football to their agents.
"That was the process from the beginning, when you're looking forward to the time when you're in a situation like this," said Clayton, who noted that his focus was on the start of classes next week at the University of Oklahoma, where he is seven credits short of a Communications degree. "I trust that he'll get the job done and that everything is going to work out in each person's favor. When we get to that bridge, we'll cross it. The reality is that everybody will be where they're supposed to be."
But, the ambiguity of free agency is still a sobering thought for those unsure of their future.
"I don't know," Williams said when asked of his prediction of where he'll land. "I'm just trying to go somewhere where they want me. If they want me here then that's where I plan to be.
"I had some ups and downs. I can't say its' been all great. I can't say it's been all bad."
Despite Mason's hint towards retirement, Washington might be the most-likely candidate to be wearing new colors next year. A former special teams standout for the New England Patriots, Washington developed into a potent third-down target in Baltimore.
Now, he is looking to expand his role after a one-year Ravens audition.
"I'm definitely going to look around and put myself in the best situation in what I'm going to be on the field – and not just on third down," explained Washington. "I feel that I've proved myself, that I can play receiver in this league and not just special teams. Now, I'm going to look out for myself and put myself in the best situation.
"I've worked hard to show everybody that I can play consistent football in this league. I'm excited about free agency and going somewhere I can really contribute on the field as a receiver… I'm truly thankful for the chance the Ravens gave me, and I'm blessed to be a part of a great organization starting from the top all the way down."
Mason, meanwhile, was far more guarded regarding his intentions. Originally putting his odds of retiring at 60/40, he backed off that statement when prompted for a definitive answer.
"It's still up in the air. It really is," he said. "But right now, it's one of those situations where you go home and you think about it, and you weigh the pros and the cons. And if your pros kind of outweigh the cons, then that's how you make your decision. But I don't see any cons in this whole process, really.
If anything, Mason would like to finish his career in Baltimore. Whether he or any of the other receivers do still remains to be seen.
"How many opportunities do you have to be a part of a great team, a great city and a great organization?" Mason asked. "Especially at the latter part of your years, you don't get that many opportunities. So, there aren't too many cons. There are a whole bunch of pros, so I just need to weigh it that way."