PHOENIX - Le'Veon Bell may have been the biggest prize in the Jets' free-agent frenzy, but he might not have been their most-important acquisition.
At the very least, linebacker C.J. Mosley was just as important to Adam Gates and the Jets.
The new coach raved about his new defensive leader during the NFL coaches breakfast at the annual owners meetings on Tuesday morning. The Jets signed Mosley to a five-year $85 million contract with $51 million in guaranteed money. And Gase still sounded like he couldn't believe his good fortune that the 26-year-old linebacker was available at all.
"I think we were shocked," Gase said at the Arizona Biltmore hotel. "We were thinking 'There's no way he's going to get out of there.' Then when he hit the market, it was a full-court press for us."
The Jets had to bid high to lure Mosley away from the Baltimore Ravens, who drafted him 17th overall back in 2014. Baltimore wanted him back too, but not at that price. And the Jets were willing to overspend because they felt the 6-2, 250-pounder was the perfect centerpiece for their defense and a leader that could help some of their young stars grow.
"We just felt like he was culture-changer," Gase said. "And he was the type of guy that could help really kind of lead that charge in the locker room, where the team building starts the right way. He's been part of an organization that all of us would say has done things the right way for a long period of time. That culture stayed the same (after Ray Lewis retired), and C.J. was a big reason for that."
And building a culture like that is a huge emphasis for Gase, who surely knows that the Jets have been lacking in that area in recent years - particularly on defense where players like Sheldon Richardson, Mo Wilkerson, and even current cornerback Trumaine Johnson sometimes seemed uninterested in doing things the right way and following the rules.
Adding veteran leaders to go with young leaders like safety Jamal Adams will go a long way towards helping Gase and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams build a stronger locker room.
"We want to be able to start our own deal here," Gase said. "(Mosley) was kind of that first piece. He's the quarterback of the defense. And with Jamal coming along, he's got somebody that he can look to and say, 'Hey, that's how you do it.' It was kind of a culture-changing type move."