The biggest name of the Ravens crop of Free Agents is without question C.J. Mosley.
Much like the Flacco vs Lamar debate of 2018, the “Sign C.J.” vs “Let Him Walk” debate of early 2019 has been a furious fight for both parties thus far, and only continues to mount tensions and momentum the closer the Ravens get to free agency (and things are even more tense after the Tavon Young extension yesterday).
As for myself? I’m firmly in the camp of letting Mosley walk.
Whether you’re already nodding in agreement, or eye-rolling harder than a Robert Downey Jr gif, let’s get on with it, shall we?
The best way to start this decision-making process is to look at where you value Mosley against his peers. I’m not going to get into the X’s and O’s of C.J.’s game (I’ll leave that for the smarter dudes on RSR), but I think it’s safe to say the majority of us believe he’s below Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner, but still in the top-5 MLBs in the NFL. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 5 contracts dished out to Mosley’s peers as of this offseason:
Luke Kuechly (2015): 5 years, $61.7M total dollars ($12.3M APY), $21M guaranteed.
Bobby Wagner (2015): 4 years, $43M total dollars ($10.75M APY), $22M guaranteed.
Alec Ogletree (2017): 4 years, $42M total dollars ($10.25M APY), $18.9M guaranteed.
Benardrick McKinney (2018): 5 years, $51.1M total dollars ($10.2M APY), $21M guaranteed.
Eric Kendricks (2018): 5 years, $50M total dollars ($10M APY), $22.9M guaranteed.
As I see it, there’s Kuechly… then there’s everybody else.
The solution seems pretty simple from the quick contract visual here: offer Mosley a four-year contract in the $40-43M range with $19-22M guaranteed, and he’ll be right there in the MLB-3 range for contracts.
Not so fast.
I’d be willing to bet Mosley’s agent sees the top deal of Kuechly, and even the Wagner deal, and simply points to ‘2015’ as the reason his client deserves more. The argument here would simply be “the cap expanded drastically since then, and the top of the market should be closer to $14-15M per year now.”
Essentially, the push by C.J.’s camp will likely be to set the market at inside linebacker.
I understand some folks will push the “hometown discount” concept, suggesting Mosley could consider taking less to stay put, but I simply don’t see that happening for multiple reasons:
- Hometown discounts don’t exist if the deals aren’t within pennies on the dollar.
- The Ravens are currently 21st in the NFL in cap space. There are numerous teams out there with double – even triple – the Ravens’ cap space with major needs to match C.J.’s role, meaning he could easily get $14-15M APY on the open market.
- This is Mosley’s first big deal after his rookie contract. Why settle for the going rate when you never know if you’ll get another shot at a deal like this?
As a rebuttal to setting the inside linebacker market, I can see the Ravens pointing to the Kendricks and McKinney deals from less than 12 months ago to show that the market for C.J.’s position is rather stagnant – after all, even if the cap space increases, it doesn’t mean every positional value increases with it (if you don’t believe me, ask every running back in the NFL).
So you have a player/agent likely pushing for a $13M+ APY contract over five years, and a team likely trying to get a deal around $10.5M APY for four or five years…thus the tension/friction/lack of contract agreement between Mosley and the Ravens to date (at least as far as we’re concerned based on the lack of information being released by Mosley’s camp or The Castle).
From a fan’s standpoint, knowing that it’s likely that Mosley’s agent is asking for top-dollar here, the question becomes clear: do you believe the Ravens should be open to giving Mosley $13M+ APY, thus setting the market for his position and locking up their former first-round draft pick?
From where I sit? Absolutely not.
Mosley is undeniably a very good middle linebacker, but I think that we tend to do the predecessor/new guy comparison with C.J., much like we did with Joe Flacco, giving us an inflated value that surpasses his true value.
Jump back to Joe’s early years where we said “Joe is great!” out of the gate, simply because we had Kyle Boller/Troy Smith before Joey was drafted, leading us to see a drastic uptick in productivity at the position. Even without winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens simply couldn’t oust Flacco after his rookie deal was up in 2013, due to fear of reverting to previous failures to find a starting QB worth a damn.
In a similar fashion, Mosley was drafted to replace the hot mess that was second-round pick Arthur Brown, along with UDFA Josh Bynes (who PFF graded as a better run defender at LB than Mosley last season, ironically enough) and then really nobody else. Following Hall of Famer Ray Lewis‘ retirement, the Ravens were a mess at the MLB position – stop-gap veteran Daryl Smith plugged the hole nicely for a time, but was never a long-term solution – and fans were panicking that they’d never replace Ray (as if that’s even a thing).
Enter Mosley, and they finally had stability at the position…now suddenly the fans are terrified that if the Ravens part ways with C.J., they revert back to never finding a solid replacement for 57 in the lineup.
“The defense would be awful! They need him! Just pay him! You can’t lose him!”
The argument holds some weight – C.J. is a solid player and key cog in the Ravens defense. But would they fall apart without him? Does an extremely talented defensive core and a great defensive mind in Wink Martindale fail to exist simply by losing one player?
Consider this: C.J. maintained the green dot for the Ravens in 2018 until his injury, at which point the Ravens (foolishly) tried to dish it off to Peanut Onwausor for a quarter and change versus the Bengals… resulting in total misery. After that, they relinquished the mic to Eric Weddle who called out the D plays for the next six quarters of football (prior to C.J.’s return). During that stint, the defense rocked the following stat line:
— 17 drives
— 15 drives under 50 yards
— 12 punts
— 1 interception
— 1 turnover on downs
— 2 touchdowns (1 of which was a six-yard drive following a Flacco pick)
— 2 field goals (1 of which was a seven-yard drive after a Flacco fumble)
Hard to argue that’s “falling apart.”
After C.J. returned from injury, the green dot was passed back and forth between C.J. and Weddle, thus relinquishing Mosley of his previous full-time responsibility.
Of course, the counter to this is that the defense was really good when Mosley was in the lineup, and that those six quarters were a rather insignificant sample size compared to what Mosley did when he was on the field. Again, this holds some weight to it when you’re talking about the Ravens defense that was ranked 1st in yards per game, 5th in passing yards per game, 4th in rushing yards per game and 2nd in points per game allowed. But there’s also something to be said about the personnel of the defense, the shining star that was Wink Martindale and his play calling, as well as the main contributors to those stats.
Ultimately, you need to look at the big picture of the defense – one player in Mosley isn’t altering the entire defense so drastically that they drop from top-5 in every category to bottom tier.
As for Mosley, he was very helpful in the run-stuffing department, and he got into the backfield a few times, but statistically? He actually had a down year. Check out the stats, courtesy of Pro Football Reference:
In a contract year – when players typically show up and play their best ball (see Joe Flacco circa 2012) – Mosley had a career low in passes defended, QB hits, forced fumbles, and his second lowest season for sacks, picks, and tackles for loss. His production dropped in every single statistical category, which begs the question:
Why would you set the market for a player that’s shown notable regression in the final year of his five-year rookie deal?
For comparative purposes, here’s how C.J. compares to the aforementioned middle linebackers in the top 5 contracts for their 2018 season:
And here’s how he compares to each of them in the first 5 years of their careers:
Basic eye test right there is telling me that not only should he not set the market, but if the Ravens were offering him money in line with the four players not named Keuchly? It’s 100% a logical and fair contract offer that he shouldn’t be fighting back against.
But alas… I don’t see him settling, and it’s simply due to supply vs. demand. The free agent market is thin for middle linebacker, thus thrusting Mosley to the top of the list, where he is followed by Kwon Alexander (coming off an ACL tear) and then a bunch of serviceable, warm bodies to fill a void and hope for the best.
The NFL Draft doesn’t offer much more promise either, with LSU’s Devin White hands down the best bet on day one of the draft, but he will likely be gone by pick 10, followed by Devin Bush out of Michigan (undersized but scrappy as hell), and Mack Wilson from Alabama (who is likely falling to round 2 after lofty expectations a year ago).
There’s plenty of need and not enough talented players to satiate every franchise, thus creating a bidding war for C.J.’s services. That alone is the major reason he won’t simply accept a market offer from the Ravens, or any team offering him a contract in line with his peers.
All of this doom and gloom abound for an inside linebacker must also mean the Ravens can’t fill that void if Mosley left, so they have to keep him, right?
Ye of little faith…
I’m a big Kenny Young supporter – maybe a little overzealous about the kid because I loved his tape out of UCLA and thought he was a great pick by the Ravens in Ozzie’s final year as GM. Young clearly wasn’t ready for the full time gig in 2018, but filled in admirably for a rookie last year during C.J.’s absence, and throughout the remainder of the year when called upon. I fully believe he can take the next step in 2019 and solidify himself as the next mainstay at linebacker for the Ravens. While his run defense likely won’t be up to par with the level of play Mosley gave us, I think his pass defense will make up for that gap, and we’ll all be boasting about KY’s play come September.
Perhaps you fall into the non-believer category when it comes to Kenny Young – no sweat! I’d be looking to the previously noted Kwon Alexander. He’s faced some injuries over the duration of his NFL career (missed 10 games with an ACL last year, plus four games missed with a hammy injury mid-season in 2017), but when he’s on the field? Dare I say he’d make you forget all about Mosley. His speed, intuitive nature, and physical prowess would give the Ravens everything that Mosley did and then some. The Ravens clearly don’t consider previous injuries a deal-breaker when it comes to keeping players around – Maxx Williams and Kenneth Dixon appreciate that! – and as long as his medicals looked clear, I can see them taking on a boom/bust guy like KA.
How good can he be?
For contextual purposes, in 2018 Alexander had the same number of tackles for loss (6) as, and two more forced fumbles (2), than Mosley… in nine fewer games.
The injuries would be a concern, which obviously drops his price and deal length. I think instead of handing Mosley a five-year, $70M deal with somewhere around $30M guaranteed, the Ravens could get Alexander for three years, $24M with about $12M guaranteed.
For that price differential? The reward is worth the risk. And in doing so, they’d still allow Kenny Young and Peanut to continue to develop with a veteran paired inside.
One last note here – the compensatory pick.
The Ravens would surely receive a 3rd round comp pick for Mosley in the 2020 draft that’s already being called one of the deeper draft classes the NFL has seen in some time (and that’s not even looking at the underclassmen we don’t know about yet!). The potential to continue to obtain picks next year while keeping the cap down cannot be understated. This Ravens franchise is currently in position to boast $90M+ in cap space for 2020 and continue to add talent to the roster in both the draft and free agency. I’d hate to hinder that by overpaying Mosley out of FOMO (fear of missing out) and sheer overvalue.
After considering ALL of that…let me know:
What do you think Ravens fans? Are you adamant that Eric DeCosta keeps C.J. Mosley at any cost? Do you have a set price where you cut off negotiations? Or are you simply ready to move on, take the comp pick, and go a different direction in the middle of the defense? And did I change your mind at all?