OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Derrick Mason welcomed Odell Beckham Jr. to an unofficial Baltimore Ravens veteran receiver fraternity with one of the best compliments he could give.
“As flashy and as flamboyant as OBJ is, the man has dog in him. He truly does,” Mason said. “That's something you can't teach. It’s just like Anquan [Boldin] had dog, and it’s just like Steve [Smith Sr.] and myself had it as well.
“OBJ follows in a long line of guys coming in that receiver room playing with the mentality of a defensive player.”
Beckham, 30, who was introduced by the Ravens on Thursday after signing his one-year, $15 million deal, is looking to become the latest 30-something wide receiver to take over as Baltimore's go-to target on the outside. Over the last two decades, graybeards like Mason, Boldin and Smith have set team records and helped Baltimore win a lot of playoff games.
The difference with Beckham is he arrives with a major question mark. Beckham has torn the ACL in his left knee in the past two seasons that he’s played. He sat out all of last season to recover, which means it will be 19 months from his most recent game to the 2023 opener.
"I'm not going to say he can't do it. I'm not going to say he can't be the Odell of old,” said Mason, the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver, who signed with Baltimore at age 31 and played from 2005 to 2010. "I think he will try his best to be. But two ACLs and a receiver, that's like a quarterback having two shoulder surgeries. He can still throw the football, but it's going to be hard for him to get back to that peak performance that he used to.”
Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta said the Ravens have had a "lot players come back from this injury and flourish."
Known for his acrobatic one-handed catches and being a dynamic playmaker, Beckham is a three-time Pro Bowler who brings credibility to one of the least productive wide receiver groups in recent years. Before adding Beckham, Baltimore’s top three wide receivers were Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay.
Beckham has 26 games with at least 100 yards receiving, which ranks 11th since his 2014 rookie season, despite not playing last season. The Ravens’ wide receivers have totaled an NFL-worst 27 100-yard receiving games over the last 10 years.
“What and how much does he have left? You never count out OBJ,” said Smith, who caught 195 passes in his three seasons (2014 to 2016) with Baltimore. "He's super passionate. He knows exactly the direction he wants to go.”
Beckham’s productivity had been on the decline before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams midway through the 2021 season. He had produced five 1,000-yard seasons in his first six years in the NFL. But he hasn’t surpassed 600 yards receiving in a season since 2019.
But Beckham appeared rejuvenated during the Rams’ championship run. He caught five touchdown passes in seven regular-season starts and then totaled 21 receptions for 288 yards in the postseason. Beckham scored the first touchdown in the Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI before injuring his left knee.
"He’s a guy that understands how to win and was a critical part in that Super Bowl game before he got injured,” Mason said. "Hell, if he doesn't get injured, you can probably pencil him in as one of the guys that could have potentially received the MVP that day, because he was balling.”
The Ravens typically don’t make huge splashes in free agency, and they usually don’t spend much on wide receivers. Since Lamar Jackson’s first full season as the starting quarterback in 2019, Baltimore’s top free agent signings at wide receiver — Willie Snead, Sammy Watkins, Seth Roberts and Agholor — received a combined $16 million in guaranteed money. Beckham got $15 million for one season.
It’s possible the Ravens are hoping that by signing Beckham, it will entice Jackson, who doesn't have an agent and is representing himself, to want to return to Baltimore. Jackson announced last month that he had requested a trade on March 2. Baltimore then placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on Jackson on March 7, which allowed him to negotiate with other teams. At the annual league meetings last month, coach John Harbaugh reiterated the Ravens are building the offense around Jackson.
Beckham said he received no assurances that Jackson would be his quarterback in Baltimore, but he added: "Lamar, if you're listening, I'd love to get to work with you."
Under the nonexclusive franchise tag, Jackson can sign a multiyear offer sheet with another team and the Ravens have the right to either match it or receive two first-round picks as compensation. If Jackson doesn’t sign an offer sheet with another team by July 17, he has to decide whether to play under the $32.4 million tag or sit out the season to protest the tag.
"I think they overspent [on Beckham] in regards to the elephant in the room, Lamar Jackson,” Smith said. "If the quarterback isn't happy, then nobody's happy. So you overspend for a guy who will bring something to the table because you want to attract your quarterback who has said now he doesn't want to be there.”
Former wide receiver Qadry Ismail, who joined the Ravens as a free agent at the age of 29 and helped Baltimore to Super Bowl XXXV, said he believes the addition of Beckham was a statement.
“I think more than anything, the number of the contract spoke volumes in that the team is serious about, 'Hey, we really truly want to win. We need you and we're going to show you that we need you,’” Ismail said. "So it does matter. It makes you feel good. I think it validates a lot of what they feel can happen as far as Lamar.”