On Monday afternoon, a young linebacker who in four NFL seasons has made the Pro Bowl once and played a full-16 game season once reportedly agreed to a four-year deal worth $13.5 million annually, including $27 million guaranteed.
Which, naturally, raised the question: If the San Francisco 49ers are willing to make Kwon Alexander the highest-paid inside linebacker in league history, what might, say, a young, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who has missed only three games in five years get?
The conservative answer: more than Alexander. The more generous estimate: a lot more than Alexander. Either way, pending free agent C.J. Mosley is going to be very rich very soon. And it appears unlikely the Ravens will be the team still signing the check.
In the early hours of the legal tampering period, when teams can officially negotiate with players before free agency officially starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday, it was hard to find a team not linked to Mosley. At the end of a Monday that saw the reported departure of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the pack of suitors had seemed to narrow.
But it will not take a stampede for Mosley’s next contract to surpass the value of Luke Kuechly’s, formerly the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker. Accounting for the NFL’s salary cap inflation since 2015, when he signed his extension, Kuechly's $12.4 million annual earnings translate to nearly $16.2 million in 2019 terms. Mosley might not get that much. Still, the yearly value of his contract could surpass the $15.4 million associated with the franchise tag the Ravens elected not to place on him.
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Mosley has said he wants to remain a Raven, but goodwill for the team that drafted him can mean only so much. Their reported competition has war chests that dwarf the Ravens’. According to Over the Cap, the Indianapolis Colts have over $100 million in cap space. The New York Jets have over $82 million, and even the signings of wide receiver Jamison Crowder and outside linebacker Anthony Barr are reportedly not expected to impede their pursuit of Mosley. The Cleveland Browns have over $70 million available.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have about $26.5 million in cap space, a middle-of-the-league figure that does not preclude big signings but does curtail their ambitions somewhat. Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged at his end-of-season news conference that “there are limitations with money,” as with any team.
But the Ravens under first-year general manager Eric DeCosta are determined to invest in players like cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Nick Boyle, offering forward-thinking extensions that will keep their best players in-house before free agency arrives and retaining them proves too costly.
“Good football players should be paid, and C.J.’s a good football player,” DeCosta said in late January. “There’s no doubt about it. You can get caught up in these types of positions that guys should get paid — you should pay the left tackle, you should pay the corner but not pay the defensive tackle or not pay the inside linebacker, and that’s all well and good unless somebody rushes for 250 yards against you. Then, all of a sudden, you change the dynamic and say, ‘Oh, we should sign the inside linebacker or the defensive tackle.’ ”
The Ravens’ needs seem to grow with each new day. At safety, newly signed Los Angeles Ram Eric Weddle will need replacing. Wide receiver remains a work in progress with the release of Michael Crabtree and John Brown hitting the open market. Outside linebacker is thin with Suggs reportedly headed to the Arizona Cardinals.
But no player’s future in Baltimore has been fretted over more than Mosley’s. When the salary cap-centric website Spotrac offered a five-year, $53.4 million valuation of Mosley on Monday morning, a lucrative deal seemed imminent. Then Anderson and the 49ers agreed a few hours later, setting the market for the position and positioning Mosley for a historic contract.
Now he and the Ravens have to figure out how much the other is willing to give up to stay.