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NY Jets face looming decision about key defensive player

NY Jets
C.J. Mosley

The money and skill don’t match for this New York Jets player

When asked who the New York Jets’ most important defensive player is, you might respond with the likes of Quinnen Williams or Sauce Gardner. Jets coaches and players, though, would likely answer C.J. Mosley. The Jets’ defensive captain garners tremendous respect in the locker room and around the league, not only for his play but also for his leadership of a top defense.

Mosley’s career with the Jets has been interesting. He was arguably on a Hall of Fame trajectory before joining New York, earning four Pro Bowls and second-team All-Pros in five years with Baltimore. His lost 2019-20 seasons certainly took a dent in that, and his 2021 season was poor. Still, he rebounded to make the Pro Bowl and another second-team All-Pro in 2022 and posted a solid raw statistical season in 2023.

Entering his age-32 season and the final year of his deal, Mosley poses a dilemma for the Jets. He is set to count $21.476 million against the salary cap, the same number he played at in 2023. While the Jets chose not to restructure his contract last year, that may be impossible with their cap crunch this offseason.

What is the Jets’ most likely path forward with Mosley? How much value does he bring them at middle linebacker? Could they possibly move on from him?

2023 season

After the 2022 season, Michael Nania ranked the Jets’ linebacker corps using five key metrics: missed tackle rate, yards per target allowed, stop rate, touchdown/interception margin, and snaps per penalty (which I will amend to penalties per 1,000 snaps). We can use those same metrics as a starting point in evaluating Mosley’s 2023 season among 71 qualified linebackers (min. 425 defensive snaps).

  • Missed tackle rate: 8.8% (25th, 10.9% positional average)
  • Yards per target: 8.6 (T-53rd, 7.5 average)
  • Stop rate: 5.32% (20th, 4.90% average)
  • TD-INT margin: 0 (T-10th, +0.89 average)
  • Penalties per 1,000 snaps: 3.55 (T-58th, 2.01 average)

Taking a raw average of these rankings, Mosley tied for 47th at 40.0, placing him in the 34th percentile. I think the ranking is slightly skewed by his penalty total, which may not be as important as some of the other metrics. Still, his high yards per target number was concerning for the Jets’ defense even as he remained a sure-handed playmaker.

Furthermore, per NFL Next Gen Stats, Mosley ranked 44th out of 65 qualified linebackers (min. 40 man coverage snaps) with 0.31 EPA per target allowed in man coverage. His 0.91 yards per cover snap ranked 48th, and his 13.2 YAC per reception allowed ranked 59th. Though some of these numbers are attributable to screen passes, as he averaged just 0.6 air yards per target, Mosley’s inability to close ground showcased his declining speed as he ages.

Even with his lack of speed in coverage, Mosley still manages to make plays on the ball. His 8% forced incompletion rate tied for 14th among linebackers, and his five pass breakups tied for fourth. His four dropped interceptions hurt him statistically, but he was often around the ball.

Overall, Mosley’s 48.1% coverage success rate ranked 35th out of 67 linebackers (min. 175 coverage snaps). However, he allowed 0.45 EPA per target, which ranked 62nd. His numbers showcase definite declines in coverage, as he posted a 64.4% coverage success rate and -0.15 EPA per target in 2022.

Money conundrum

The Jets cannot afford to have Mosley on their books for $21.476 million in 2024. The problem is that he will already count for $5.952 million in void money for 2025, meaning that the Jets will prolong their cap crunch if they try to restructure his contract.

NFL.com recently suggested that the Jets could release Mosley outright. As a pre-June 1 cut, he would save them $11 million with $10.4 million in dead money; post-June 1, he would save $17 million with just $4.5 million in dead money. However, the chances of this happening are practically zero. The Jets think too highly of Mosley to let him go, and it would simply create another void to fill.

Therefore, I think Mosley will take a pay cut this season. He wants to win and understands the Jets’ narrow window of opportunity with Aaron Rodgers. I imagine he will cut $5-6 million off his salary, perhaps with some not likely to be earned incentives.

Even with $5-6 million shaved off, though, Mosley’s $15.5-16.5 million cap hit would still be difficult for the Jets to sustain. Still, I don’t think Joe Douglas will continue with the void-year game for Mosley any longer. Perhaps they’ll work out an extension to push some of the money into the future, but I think it’s likely Mosley will play out the final year of his deal at that number.

Mike Maccagnan’s five-year, $85 million deal doled out to Mosley continues to hurt the Jets’ salary cap. Even as Mosley remains a big part of their defense, they will need to find a way to make his cap hit work if they want to keep their defensive core intact for a championship run in 2024.

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