OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The list of goals taped to the locker of Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is there for everyone to see.
Lead league in tackles.
Lead linebackers in interceptions.
Super Bowl MVP.
Ambitious, for sure, but we’re talking about someone who was named to three Pro Bowls and voted a second-team All-Pro linebacker three times by age 25. He finished second among NFL linebackers in interceptions two years ago and tied for third in the league in solo tackles last season. This spring, he took the advice of new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale — his former linebackers coach — to remind himself of what he wants to accomplish in 2018.
“I’ve always had my goals, but putting them up so I can see them, that’s kind of a new step for me,” said Mosley, who also keeps the list on his phone since he quips that he’s always on it. “It’s just something to look at every day when I’m kind of tired and just gives me a little motivation to keep going, keep pushing.”
Mosley has reason to be motivated beyond on-field accolades or helping the Ravens return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The former first-round pick is entering the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him $8.718 million in 2018.
Many expected a long-term extension to be high on the Ravens’ offseason agenda with fellow defensive leaders Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle now entering their 16th and 12th seasons, respectively, but a deal hasn’t yet come to fruition. Mosley has repeatedly said he wants to remain a Raven and go down as the second-best inside linebacker in franchise history behind the recently-enshrined Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who just happened to reach every goal on Mosley’s list over the course of his 17-year career.
As Martindale revamped the defensive system this offseason to put more responsibility on his veteran leaders to make calls on the fly, Mosley faithfully attended voluntary workouts while others around the league with similar contract situations stayed away from their teams in the spring and even into the summer in some cases. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker says his focus remains on the field as begins his fifth season against Buffalo on Sunday.
“Right now, I’ve got my last year to play out,” Mosley said. “I guess maybe further down the road, it might become more of an issue – maybe not, I don’t know. Like I’ve said before, those are the types of things that I let my agent (Jimmy Sexton) and them work [on] upstairs. I’ll talk to my agent and we’re trying to get somewhere with it, so that’s about all I can tell you right now.”
Despite that last hint of optimism, there has been no progress towards a deal. It remains unclear how much Mosley is asking for or how much the Ravens are willing to pay, but his impressive resume would lead one to believe his representation seeks a contract north of the five-year, $62 million extension signed by Carolina’s Luke Kuechly three years ago that included $27 million guaranteed. The record-setting deals recently signed by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack emphatically set new standards at their positions, another factor to consider as Mosley — or any other standout defensive player — moves closer to free agency.
Even with his impressive accomplishments over his first four seasons, opinions vary in some circles as to how great Mosley truly is. The quality of his pass coverage has come under scrutiny as Pro Football Focus noted his problems last season, but the website still graded him 11th among linebackers in that category, perhaps a reflection of the scarcity of quality three-down linebackers in today’s game. It’s also worth noting Mosley dealt with a nagging ankle injury over the second half of last season when his difficulties covering tight ends were more pronounced.
Following in the footsteps of one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, Mosley has been held to Lewis’ impossible standard by some — consciously or not — despite his efforts to assume the mantle. Though clearly less demonstrative than the theatrical Lewis, Mosley gets his point across in his own way, according to teammates and coaches.
His stabilizing presence makes it easy to forget he was actually the Ravens’ second attempt at picking Lewis’ long-term successor after 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown — a player general manager Ozzie Newsome traded up to draft — was a disappointment. Selected with the 17th overall pick in 2014, Mosley was an immediate starter and became the first Ravens rookie to ever make the Pro Bowl.
“I feel like C.J. can go as high as he wants to go and be whoever he wants to be,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “He’s got that much talent. He’s got that much leadership ability, and I’ll follow him anywhere. I think C.J. can be, is, [and] will be forever a premier linebacker in this league.”
Of course, Mosley playing out the final year of his contract wouldn’t mean he’s destined to depart next offseason. Williams briefly hit the free-agent market last year before the Ravens made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league with a five-year, $52.5 million deal. Baltimore has used the franchise tag to retain the rights of former Pro Bowl defensive players such as cornerback Chris McAlister, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the $14.961 million cost to tag a linebacker — inside or outside — in 2018 will likely climb next year.
Perhaps the wait-and-see approach with Mosley is indicative of the Ravens’ overall transition. Newsome will step down after 2018, leaving successor Eric DeCosta to consider the futures of several key figures, ranging from Suggs to even head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.
Only 26, Mosley would seemingly be a pillar for the next era of Ravens football, especially if he can check off a few more items from the list on his locker.
“C.J. is one of the premier players in this league,” said Suggs, who is also in the final year of his contract as he begins his 16th season in Baltimore. “Like I’ve said before, not everybody can come through these doors and be considered a Raven for life. So far, I think his resume shows that, and I think he’s one of those rare guys that’s going to be a lifer here.”