There is no greater reward than the acknowledgment of your teammates, not only of your talent on the field, but for your worth and presence in the locker room and beyond. So it should come as little surprise that Clint Mosley Jr. (hence the C.J.) was voted by his "brothers" as the 2021 season recipient of the Curtis Martin Jets MVP Award.
"It's very special," Mosley, 29, said on the season-ending edition of "Inside the Jets" with Bart Scott and Dan Graca. "To have that award given to me by my teammates and my brothers in arms means a lot. Every time I spoke to the team it was a very humbling and vulnerable experience, talking to a bunch of grown men. It's something I don't take for granted. I gave my all for myself, my family and my brothers."
With the season over, when the players depart and go their separate ways, it would be easy to forget the questions that swirled around the four-time All-Pro linebacker from Mobile, AL. After signing with the Jets in free agency, he played in only parts of two games in 2019 due to a groin injury and then opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
He roared back in 2021, lighter, quicker and true to his nickname of "half-man, half-amazing." And that return dovetailed with a new head coach in Robert Saleh, a new defensive coordinator in Jeff Ulbrich, a new defensive scheme, and a slew of new and young teammates.
He said that this season reminded him of his rookie year with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 "when I was the young one."
"It's been a while since I've been with such a young group," he said. "When you have a young core group that plays these games, experiences things together, all those things build up as they're learning and growing. The coaches as well. It was also their first time together and their chemistry matters, too. For us and for them, we can think about all the things we had this year, the successes and the losses that we can build off with a core group. Chemistry, foundation and trust are what gets you to the next level of success."
With that new coaching staff, a 4-3 defense and surrounded by rookies still wet under the ears, Mosley embraced the task. In one of the highest compliments possible from a head coach, Saleh called Mosley an "All-Pro player and an all-pro human being."
He played in 16 games, missing only the Week 7 matchup against New England, and led the team with 168 tackles while also tasked with making the defensive calls. Perhaps the most impressive stat -- for any NFL player -- is that Mosley notched 100% of the snaps on defense in all but two games.
"I feel I just stayed within myself in this new scheme, understanding what was asked as me as a linebacker," he said. "There were things I didn't do before in other defenses. It was a very fun experience in our defensive style, it's been fun to take my game to the next level. I feel like this has been the most fun I've had on and off the field. From a leader to being a captain, there are a lot of things to look back on. I'm honored and blessed to be a part of this team with my brothers. It's been a fun year for me and I'm ready to continue the process with these guys."
Perhaps it is a coincidence (though it's not likely), Mosley when he signed with the Ravens was assigned jersey No. 57, which had been worn by Scott, both with Baltimore and later in his tenure with the Jets. In so many ways, Mosley has channeled Scott's ferocity on the field and yearlong dedication to the game and to his team.
"Obviously, our record isn't what we wanted," he said. "But when you look at how we started as a team and how we finished as a team, we've grown and matured a lot. This foundation is a stepping stone. The sky's the limit for the organization.
"When you're struggling, suffering defeats, especially on the defensive side, you always look at yourself first. What could I have done better? Those types of things. There were a lot we did really well as a unit and there are some things we can work on."
The offseason is shaping up to be an exciting time for the Green & White. The club has copious room under the NFL's salary cap to pursue free agents and boasts four draft picks in the top 38 of April's draft. And for Mosley it's time to get some rest and get his body right.
"Some guys leave with different injuries, some guys have surgery," he said. "Luckily for me, I had a pretty healthy season, minor bumps and bruises. There will be a few weeks off before I start to ease back into it. The most important thing is to keep a healthy diet."