Hours after his former Ravens teammates said they would welcome his return, wide receiver Derrick Mason shocked them by announcing he would sign with the New York Jets.
Mason, 37, is the Ravens' all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. The Ravens released him prior to camp to create $4.5 million in salary-cap room.
"After a lot of very thoughtful and careful consideration, conversations with my family and prayer, I have decided to sign with the New York Jets," Mason said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to working under Rex [Ryan] and rejoining some familiar faces."
The Ravens have lost out on two wide receivers — Malcom Floyd and Mason — in a span of 24 hours. A league source denied a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune that Floyd accepted less than the Ravens offered to stay with theChargers.
Now, the Ravens may turn to former Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
But Cotchery is visiting the Ravens' most heated rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Sunday, according to a league source. The Ravens are one of four teams who are seriously interested in him, the source added.
Cotchery, 29, had 41 catches for 433 yards and two touchdowns for the Jets last season. He has expressed interest in the Ravens, a league source said.
From 2006 to 2008, Cotchery had at least 70 catches.
Ravens players were not sure what Mason planned to do when they spoke with reporters after the team's practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. Quarterback Joe Flacco said that he hadn't spoken to Mason since he was released. He put his support behind Mason, but not before delivering a playful shot.
"Derrick is a great locker room guy," Flacco said before cracking a smile. "He can be a little bit of a diva sometimes, but that's all good and fun with him for the most part.
"Derrick is a great wide receiver. He can help this team out in my opinion. Yeah, I would welcome him back immediately.".
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin said he spoke with Mason a couple of days ago.
"Me and Derrick have a great rapport," Boldin said. "I think he can help us out tremendously. I would love to have him."
Flacco made a point to say how losing four veterans (Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg and Willis McGahee) has changed the team.
"When we were heading into the offseason, we were a pretty veteran team. That was one of those things that we could feel pretty confidently about going into the lockout," Flacco said. "Now, we got young pretty quickly. So, any time you get a guy who is a veteran and has played games in the NFL, it can help your locker room."
J. Smith's makes brief appearance
Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith's return to practice Saturday after missing the previous four days due to a groin injury was short-lived — and part of the plan.
The club's 27th overall pick in April, Smith participated in the first hour of practice at M&T Bank Stadium. But shortly afterward, he donned a white hat and watched from the sideline.
In the locker room, Smith said his abbreviated appearance was scripted by the coaching and medical staffs.
"It was never the plan to go full today," he said. "It was to just go out there and run around and loosen up. I felt good, but they want to wait until next week for me to get back and give it a full-go."
C. Williams makes impression
Cornerback Cary Williams pulled in his third interception in two days, stepping in front of rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams and picking off a pass by rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
"It's just me playing football," Williams said. "Last one was just cover zero, the ball had to come out quick. I looked at the receiver's split and basically made a read off of it. I had to break in front of him if I wanted the interception."
Coach John Harbaugh took note of Williams' recent play, saying, "Cary Williams has had two excellent days."
Fans turn out
An announced crowd of 24,078 turned out for the Ravens' practice at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. The attendance surpassed last year's total of 17,851 and pleased Harbaugh.
"They were loud, they were excited, the guys were excited, and it was really just a great environment," he said. "This is just one of the better things that we do as an organization."
One factor in the increase may have been this session being the only one open to fans this summer. Because of uncertainty as to when the lockout would end, the Ravens decided in late June that they could not bring training camp to McDaniel College in Westminster, as they had done so for the previous 15 summers. The team's facility in Owings Mills was not built to accommodate fans, so all practices to this point have been closed to the public.
Players who did not practice included wide receivers James Hardy (hamstring) and Rodney Bradley (unspecified), center Matt Birk (left knee), tight end Ed Dickson (unspecified) and running back Matt Lawrence (unspecified). Dickson and Lawrence sat out for the second consecutive day. Hardy has missed four of the last five practices. … Former offensive lineman and current NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger and Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala attended Saturday's workout.