The Tennessee Titans always saw Derrick Mason as a first-rate return man. As a wide receiver, though, he was a last resort.
Mason was well into his fourth NFL season before the Titans began to throw him the ball. In between, they drafted Kevin Dyson with the 16th overall pick in 1999 and signed an aging, disinterested Carl Pickens as a free agent. They rode Willie Davis as long as they could, gave Chris Sanders plenty of chances to measure up to the standard he set as a rookie and Joey Kent the opportunity to live up to the potential he showed at the University of Tennessee.
None of them made anywhere near the impact on the passing game that Mason did.
Mason announced his retirement from pro football Tuesday. He played 15 seasons with four teams mostly with the Titans and Baltimore Ravens.
“I'm done,” he told Scout.com. “I won't be playing football. I only knew one way to play football, going all-out and having fun out there.
“… I leave it healthy and able to run and walk, and not take a half-hour or 45 minutes to get out of bed.”
Because of his slow progression from fourth-round draft pick (98th overall, 1997) to first-team wide receiver, Mason holds a unique place in Nashville’s history as an NFL city. He was the first player of the Titans’ post-Houston era to make himself into a star while Middle Tennessee watched.
Bruce Matthews and Eddie Goerge were bona fide big names upon the franchise’s arrival. Steve McNair and Jevon Kearse had hefty reputations from their college days.
Mason, on the other hand, was a product of Michigan State who started two games in his first three seasons. He was the primary kickoff return man as a rookie, the primary punt return man in his second season and then held down both jobs for the next three seasons.
In 2000, he set an NFL record with 2,690 combined yards (895 receiving, 1,132 on kickoff returns, 662 on punt returns and one rushing) and earned the first of his two Pro Bowl invitations. He only became a starter at receiver after three others sustained injuries during the first four weeks of the season.
In eight seasons with Tennessee he caught 453 passes, fifth on the franchise’s all-time list, and he is the only Titans/Oilers player with 95 catches or more in multiple seasons. He had 95 in 2003 and 96 the following season.
He also remains the club’s only wide receiver of the Titans era to make the Pro Bowl, and ranks second all-time for career yards on both kickoff and punt returns.
After Tennessee, he spent six seasons with Baltimore, where he caught 471 passes. Nine times over a 10-year period with those teams, beginning in 2001, he topped 1,000 yards receiving.
He split time between the New York Jets and Houston Texans this season, but the Texans cut him with four games remaining. His 19 combined receptions represented his lowest single-season total since 1999, his third year with Tennessee.
“Me leaving now, even though it didn't happen the way I wanted it to happen, I had a good run,” he said in the interview with Scout.com. “It was fun while it lasted."
He finished with 943 catches for 12,061 yards. Imagine if he’d had more opportunities during his first three seasons.
He said he plans to pursue a career in broadcasting.
"I'm spending some time at home and doing as much as I can to really get entrenched in some broadcasting network whether it be nationally or do something here locally," Mason said. "I enjoy it a lot."
Even if he is not great at it right away, broadcast outlets best not give up on him.