Re-signing Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley should be one of the Ravens’ top priorities during the offseason, but they need to proceed with caution.
Mosley, 26, is a good player but not a great one.
Under former general manager Ozzie Newsome in recent years, the Ravens have overpaid players such as nose tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson.
But Newsome also has a history of allowing inside linebackers such as Jamie Sharper, Brad Jackson, Bart Scott and Ed Hartwell to move on because most of the linebackers’ money was allotted for the salary of star Ray Lewis.
Now, the Ravens are in different territory.
Eric DeCosta is the new general manager and his first major decision will be the status of Mosley. Do the Ravens put the franchise tag on him, or do they offer Mosley a five- or six-year deal worth around $65 million to $75 million, which would make him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the game?
Mosley is good, but not yet in the class of the Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly or Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner, the two highest-paid inside linebackers in the NFL. Kuechly signed a five-year, $62 million contract in 2015, and Wagner, one of the most feared hitters in the NFL, is averaging $10.75 million a season.
Mosley might not even be as good as the New York Giants’ Alex Ogletree, who makes $10.50 million a year. You can crunch and compare statistics and talk about the different systems each of the above players perform in, but Mosley appears a step away from becoming a great player.
The first-round pick out of Alabama in the 2014 draft simply hasn’t made enough big plays yet, especially in crunch time.
He does a lot of other things well. He is one of two players to record at least 500 tackles, eight sacks and eight interceptions since he entered the league. The other is Kuechly.
Mosley’s agents will also point out to DeCosta that Kuechly’s contract was signed more than three years ago and that Mosley is one of leaders on defense. Not only does he call signals, but there isn’t anyone ready to step in if Mosley enters free agency and leaves.
It’s hard not to like him. Mosley is undersized at 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, but he makes up for it with his speed and temperament. He loves contact, attacks runners and is a reliable tackler because of his leverage. Mosley also does a good job of disengaging blockers with his hands.
The Ravens need new stars who were drafted by the team, like former Pro Bowl players Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware and Ed Reed.
But there are other things to consider: Despite all the tackles, Mosley hasn’t had a lot resulting in losses. He is a liability in pass coverage, and his stiff hips don’t allow him to turn and run with good running backs in pass coverage. He isn’t effective as a blitzer, often getting lost in the piles of humanity.
In essence, he’s isn’t a complete linebacker. He’s a good one, just not a great one.
Mosley has the ability and personality to be the face of the organization. He is thoughtful and a hard worker, and his teammates like him. He is active in the community, and you never have to worry about where Mosley is the night before a game.
The Ravens could put the franchise tag on Mosley for next season, which would force them to pay him around $15 million. That wouldn’t be a smart move. They might try to re-sign him before free agency begins March 13, but they need to be careful of the cost.
The Ravens have gotten a bargain from Mosley, who signed a four-year $8.87 million deal as a rookie. He has 579 tackles, nine interceptions, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 8.5 sacks. He has been named to the Pro Bowl four times.
The Ravens might offer him a lucrative contract with a lot of the money to be paid out in the first couple of years, and that would allow them to renegotiate in the final couple of years.
But they need to be careful. Mosley’s number is 57, not 52.