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Jets' Mason ready to return to Baltimore

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Derrick Mason was working out in July, preparing for his seventh season with the Baltimore Ravens, when general manager Ozzie Newsome called to deliver the bad news:

The Ravens were releasing the 15-year NFL veteran from his contract.

"It came out of left field for me," Mason, now with the New York Jets, said Wednesday. "But this is business, and nothing is forever. You've gotta be able to -- at the drop of a dime -- pick your family up and what-not and change cities. And that's what happened to me.

"But that's football, man, you can't be mad at nobody. You just gotta deal with it and move on."

On Sunday in Baltimore, Mason's new team will face his former club in an early season AFC showdown. He joked that while Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, who also used to play for the Ravens, were "crying" as they recalled their Baltimore playing days, Mason looks at it as just another game on the schedule.

"It'll be special because I spent so much time down there and the city embraced me," said Mason, the Ravens' career leader in receptions (477) and receiving yards (5,777). "But at the end of the day I have a job to do and that's to go down there and try to win a football game against a good football team."

Mason eventually met with Newsome, who explained the organization's decision in greater detail.

"Did I like it? No, not necessarily, because it came out of left field," said Mason, who had organized and participated in mass Ravens workouts during the lockout. "But you respect it, and the quicker you can pick yourself up and move on the better."

Mason wouldn't disclose why the Ravens decided to go in another direction, but Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the move was strictly financial. At the time, Baltimore was in a salary-cap conundrum, and paying a 37-year-old target $4.5 million in base salary didn't exactly make sense.

"We had to move four different players," Harbaugh said in a Wednesday conference call. "Right out of training camp, we decided to do it. We really had no choice, cap-wise."

Said Mason: "I think I was at peace with it because deep down in my heart I knew I gave them everything I had. The way I played, no one can question whether I gave it 100 percent or not. So when I left the building I was OK, because I knew leaving that building that I still had a lot of football left in me."

The Jets thought so, too. And despite interest from Baltimore to return for lesser compensation, Mason decided it was time for him to move on.

"I'm not gonna sit here and lie: I was still torn with going back to Baltimore and coming here because I'd been there so long," Mason said. "They were like family to me. But they made a business decision, and I had to make a business decision that was best for me career-wise."

Mason inked a two-year free-agent deal with the Jets on Aug. 6. He knew that New York had added Plaxico Burress to go along with Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller, so receptions were going to be hard to come by. But that didn't matter to Mason.

"If I had to be the No. 1 guy, I wouldn't have came here," said Mason, who serves as the Jets' slot receiver. "I would've tried to go somewhere else. But I wanted to come into a situation where I had the potential of winning a Super Bowl. A real shot at winning the Super Bowl, not just some fabricated, somebody says it at the beginning of the year.

"I think I was in a good position because the two teams that were sort of in play, both of them had a good shot at going to the Super Bowl," he said of the Jets and Ravens. "So I was in a no-lose situation."

Mason said "only time will tell" whether the Jets (2-1) are better than the Ravens (2-1) -- and whether Baltimore is better off without him. But one thing is certain: The way his Ravens career ended provides no added motivation going into Sunday's matchup.

"I was motivated because I was drafted in the fourth round," said Mason, who was selected by the Tennessee Oilers with the 98th overall selection of the 1997 draft. "There were 97 people -- eight or nine receivers -- that were drafted in front of me. And each and every year they've tried to replace me. That's motivation enough. I didn't need Baltimore cutting me as extra motivation."

It sounds as though he truly has moved on.

"I fit in well. I enjoy it here," said Mason, who has 10 receptions for 71 yards in the first three weeks of the 2011 season. "It's good to come into the locker room and feel at home. I'm having fun. The only thing that could make it better is for us to continue to win."

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.