San Francisco 49ers

Analysis: Why 49ers should keep an eye on Baltimore LB C.J. Mosley

Who is C.J. Mosley?

C.J. Mosley is a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. He was drafted by the team in 2014.
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C.J. Mosley is a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. He was drafted by the team in 2014.

The 49ers defense suffered a significant loss in November with the release of 2017 first-round draft pick Reuben Foster. But the team might be able to fill that void with another former Alabama star.

It’s no sure thing the Baltimore Ravens are going to bring back four-time Pro-Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, a pending free agent, who would be one of the most coveted players available if he hit the open market in when the new league year begins in March.

Teams including San Francisco are likely monitoring the situation closely after Mosley proved to be one of the best players on the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 2018.

“Yeah, you’d rather have C.J. back,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters on Friday, according to the Baltimore Sun. “There’s always the give and take, of course. There are limitations with money, but C.J. wants to be back and we want him back. I think that’s a really good formula for a player coming back. I’m just not even going to entertain the possibility right now that that wouldn’t happen. I’ll just assume that’s going to happen. That’s where I’m at.”

The 49ers could be aggressive when it comes to adding game-changing players in the third year of coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch’s tenure. And Mosley, who turns 27 in June, might be an ideal pairing with promising second-year linebacker Fred Warner.

Mosley was named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press in four of his five NFL seasons after being drafted 17th overall in 2014. He’s due to become one of the league’s highest-paid players at his position, which is why he might have a hard time staying in Baltimore.

The Ravens could decide to go with a far more affordable option in Patrick Onwuasor, who played well late last season and is also a free agent, after the club failed to agree to a multiyear contract extension with Mosley. And while the franchise tag would be the easiest way to keep Mosley off the market, its projected cost of $15.5 million might be too much.

Mosley on a long-term deal could make upwards of $10 million per season while the Ravens currently have roughly $28.4 million in space, according to Overthecap.com. The team has 20 free agents to consider, including long-time pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who wants to retire with the organization.

San Francisco, meanwhile, currently has just five picks in the upcoming NFL Draft after having 19 combine selections over the last two years. Its $64 million in cap space is in the top third of the league and would make it easy to absorb a talented, veteran linebacker to build around cutting Foster in late November following his second domestic violence-related arrest in 10 months.

The 49ers without Foster were forced to rely on Malcolm Smith, a veteran who struggled to stay healthy and was moved to outside linebacker, and former Vikings seventh-round draft pick Elijah Lee, who played was among San Francisco’s group of young defenders to play well down the stretch.

But Lee was just over a year removed from the Vikings practice squad and might be better served in a reserve role where he could play special teams behind a coveted starter like Mosley.

Adding Mosley, and possibly making a run at Seahawks free agent safety Earl Thomas, could help San Francisco’s defense take the necessary leap forward toward playoff contention in 2019, which is where the team needs to be. If not, questions about Shanahan and Lynch’s future will begin to percolate.

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