NY Jets: Can C.J. Mosley return to All-Pro form under Robert Saleh?

NY Jets, C.J. Mosley Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets, C.J. Mosley Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

The NY Jets, in 2019, signed linebacker C.J. Mosley to a five-year contract worth $85 million. $43 million of that contract was fully guaranteed, with $51 million in overall guarantees.

It was the type of deal reserved for a game-changing player. The Jets broke the bank for what they thought would be the quarterback of their defense for years to come.

At the time, the Baltimore Ravens badly wanted to retain Mosley — their franchise regarded him as their top priority in free agency.

There was a huge sense of regret from Baltimore losing Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his prime, knowing that they were losing one of their best leaders and players.

Fast forward two years later, the Ravens regret has turned to a huge sense of relief. While the Ravens shuffled through different players initially, with mixed results at inside linebacker, their overall defense hasn’t missed a beat — ranking as one of the league’s very best since.

And from a salary cap structure standpoint, Baltimore isn’t saddled with the deal they would’ve ended up paying Mosley if they had retained him.

While the Jets, to this point, have nothing but buyer’s remorse, to say that Mosley’s tenure with the Jets, thus far, hasn’t gone well would be an understatement.

A groin injury limited Mosley to just 114 snaps over two games in 2019. Last summer, he opted out of the 2020 season, citing family health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Could C.J. Mosley bounce back with the NY Jets in 2021?

While the final chapter hasn’t been written on Mosley’s tenure with the Jets, at this moment, it would be fair to characterize it as one of the worst free-agent signings in Jets history. Not because of the player’s quality but because of the lack of any return on what was a gigantic investment.

Considering Gang Green’s long history of misplaced faith and fortunes in free agency, for Mosley’s signing to be among the worst ever is saying something.

Especially considering that Mosley was signed in the same offseason, the Jets miscalculated and sold the farm for running back Le’Veon Bell. At least, Bell got on the field for a season and change before being jettisoned away.

The truth is, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Mosley’s journey in green and white ends up at the same destination that Bell’s did. It all depends on the type of player Mosley is when he returns on the field.

Mosley comes from a franchise that Jets general manager Joe Douglas was a part of, and in Douglas’ final year in Baltimore, Mosley was drafted out of Alabama with the Ravens’ first-round pick. Notwithstanding that, the fact is that the Jets’ current GM did not sign Mosley.

Former general manager Mike Maccagnan did.

For all intents and purposes, the soon-to-be 29-year-old will remain with the Jets in 2021. Cutting Mosley would provide the franchise no salary cap benefit.

In fact, the Jets would endure a $13 million cap hit with $20 million of dead money on top of that. Releasing Mosley a year from now would still produce dead money on the cap ($12.5 million), but the move would save the Jets $5 million in cap space.

In many respects, the 2021 season will be Mosley’s last chance to prove that he can be the centerpiece of the Jets’ defense.

By next season, Mosley should be fully healed and rested, but it’s fair to wonder if he will be the same player he was when the Jets signed him.

After all, Mosley is two years removed from playing at all. And in some respects, three years from being the type of player he was back in 2018 for the Baltimore Ravens.

How will Mosley fit in Robert Saleh’s defense in New York? The middle linebacker in Saleh’s defense is a pivotal position. It’s a scheme where the linebackers are asked to cover a lot of ground in the run and pass game.

While the Jets’ new head coach will be hard-pressed to get the same production and leadership level he just experienced with All-Pro Fred Warner in San Francisco, if he returns to his previous form, a healthy and rejuvenated Mosley could be exactly the type of player needed to assume that crucial responsibility.

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More than anything, Saleh and the Jets franchise need leaders on and off the field. C.J. Mosley was paid as much as he was to have that type of influence over an entire locker room.

The overall franchise is in desperate need of impact players, and Mosley is supposed to provide that in more ways than one.

To this point, through no fault of his own, Mosley has barely registered as a member of the Jets. It’s easy for some to be forgetful that he’s even on the roster.

As a matter of fact, a conversation like “Whatever happened to C.J. Mosley? He was pretty good when he was in Baltimore. Did he retire?” seems like a realistic exchange that could take place between non-Jets and Ravens fans.

Ferris Bueller once famously said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In many respects, the NFL is the same way. The perspective on things changes in a hurry for the teams and their players.

C.J. Mosley still has a chance and time to rewrite the narrative on his story in New York. To go back to being the great player he was and live up to the great expectations the Jets had for him.

In some ways, if Mosley finally delivers on the field, it will feel like the Jets added a superstar in free agency. One that they had all along.

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Otherwise, if he doesn’t live up to his billing, Mosley will be gone fast, but since he was barely there, to begin with, the Jets will never have missed him.