The Baltimore Ravens are a month and a half removed from their season-ending 23-17 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC Wild Card game.
One of the biggest questions that began to surface almost immediately after the loss was the impending free agency of C.J. Mosley. The Ravens fifth-year linebacker is coming off his third consecutive second-team All-Pro selection and Pro-Bowl selection. Mosley was also selected to both teams in his rookie season.
The 2018 season saw the 26-year-old register 105 combined tackles, five passes defensed, six tackles for a loss, a half sack, and most notably one season-saving interception in week 17 against the Cleveland Browns.
Mosley has solidified the middle linebacker spot previously occupied by NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. He is widely regarded as a top five player at his position and he is expected to lock up a big pay day this offseason when free agency gets under way in early March.
Here are some things to consider in regards to whether or not the Ravens should bring Mosley back for the 2019 season.
1) Market Value
The biggest issue that the Ravens are going to have to deal with in their quest to re-sign Mosley that while the trade of Joe Flacco and other expected veteran cuts will save some money for the team, they still don’t project to have a ton of salary cap space available. Consider this from cap guru Brian McFarland:
This plays a key role when you consider some of the recent deals signed by top inside linebackers. In 2015, Carolina Panthers star inside linebacker Luke Kuechly signed a five-year deal worth roughly $62 million, including $27 million in guaranteed money. Kuechly is a five time First Team All-Pro and a six time Pro-Bowler. He also took home the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Kuechly’s career accolades out pace Mosley, so don’t expect the Ravens to have to shell out that much money to keep him in town. Perhaps a more reasonable comparison when considering what it might cost to keep Mosley is looking at the deal of Benardrick McKinney of the Houston Texans. Who?
The 26-year–old McKinney inked a five-year extension worth $51 million including $21 million guaranteed last off-season. McKinney picked up his first Pro-Bowl nod last season, racking up 105 combined tackles, one interception, one forced fumble, and seven passes defensed.
It’s safe to assume that Mosley is better than McKinney to this point in his career and trailing Kuechly. That would mean the deal is likely to be somewhere in-between the two contracts which would place the value at roughly $56.5 million. With Mosley turning 27 in June, a four or five year deal is likely.
There are ways to finagle the cap to have the financial hits lessened over specific seasons with signing bonuses and re-structures. With that being said, it will be interesting to see if the Ravens want to commit between $50-$60 million over the next five seasons to Mosley. Factoring in the Brandon Williams and Tony Jefferson contract albatrosses, it might be too much to sink more money into the defense:
Consider that the Oakland Raiders are likely to have $60-$70 million in salary cap space and a gaping hole at inside linebacker. They could afford to make Mosley the highest paid inside linebacker in the NFL history. They are not alone in being able to do so as the Arizona Cardinals are rumored to be willing to do that as well.
Is Mosley even worth that?
2) How good is C.J. Mosley?
This is a really generic point but one that deserves consideration.
He is “our guy”. Since he was drafted 17th overall in 2014, he has been one of the staples of a Ravens defense that has ranked seventh on average in yards-per game-allowed. He has worn the green dot at times, making the play calls for the defense. He is an asset in the community and judging by the number of #57 jerseys around M&T Bank Stadium, a fan favorite.
He has been a play maker for the defense throughout his tenure in Baltimore, registering nine interceptions, six forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries throughout his five-year career in the purple and black. Perhaps his strongest attribute has been his durability as Mosley has missed just three games in his five seasons as a Raven.
That takes care of the good with Mosley and trust me there’s plenty of it that words cannot justify.
Mosley’s shortcomings as a player are primarily rooted in pass coverage. It’s 2019 in the NFL. If you want to play middle linebacker at a truly elite level, you have to be able to be counted on in pass coverage. Mosley is terrible in pass coverage. It is not debatable at this point and it is hard to see him getting any better in that realm as time rolls on and age begins to play a factor.
Tight ends typically have field days against the Ravens over the middle of the field. In 2018, the Ravens allowed tight ends to grab 88 catches for 1,008 yards, 11.45 yards-per-catch and six touchdowns. Only Denver, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Oakland, Los Angeles, Houston, and Kansas City allowed more yards to opposing tight ends than the Ravens.
While Mosley is obviously not the only player responsible for these numbers, he is certainly one that is most likely to be matched up on the opposing tight ends. Is that top five inside linebacker level coverage? Is that a guy you want to sink $15 million a year into for the next four to six years?
These are questions for the Ravens to ponder in negotiations with Mosley.
This is a difficult point to consider in the talks with Mosley. It is expected that the Ravens will move on from starting safety and veteran team leader Eric Weddle this off-season. The move would save $7.5 million against the salary cap and I don’t see why the Ravens wouldn’t take that space especially as they try to keep Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and Terrell Suggs among others. Weddle also served as a play-caller for the Ravens defense last season.
Along with Weddle, if Suggs goes this summer, the team will be sorely lacking veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball and the need to sign Mosley would be paramount. Jimmy Smith is a good player but has never been considered a leader on this defense despite his service time. Jefferson is a veteran but does he command the same respect and possess the same leadership qualities that a Weddle, a Suggs, and a Mosley do? Smith and Jefferson are also potential cap casualties.
Many believe that the Ravens need to keep Mosley because the thought of losing all three of those guys in one off-season is insurmountable.
Just because the team may need to rely on younger players and have a new defensive play-caller if any combination of Weddle, Mosley, and Suggs aren’t back, that doesn’t mean the team should make a gross over payment for the services of Mosley. Doing so would put the team in a tough spot against the cap after finally gaining some relief this season. I’d hate to see that all given back because of questions like “Well who will call the plays next year? or “Who will lead the defense?”
Marlon Humphrey appears to be a budding star at corner and could grow into a leadership role. Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor showed flashes last season that he could be a viable (and cheaper) replacement for Mosley at inside linebacker. Rookie Kenny Young looked good early at inside linebacker but faltered later in the season. There’s always veterans to be signed in free agency as well that won’t break the bank like Mosley projects to do. Kwon Alexander of the Bucs comes to mind immediately.
Going young on defense wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Ravens. It would give them a chance to see what some of their younger guys can do with added pressure. It would also provide the Ravens cap space to strengthen other areas of the team, namely an offense whose only play-maker is quarterback Lamar Jackson.
There are tons of things to consider in the Mosley talks. But if the talks get into the $14-$16 million a year range, the Ravens should only be considering moving on.
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