Josh Bynes wanted the Ravens' No. 57 jersey, but just when he got a chance for it early in his career, C.J. Mosley was drafted in the first round in 2014.
Bynes was a former undrafted rookie free agent who had played in 26 games, started nine and, most famously, made the final tackle of Super Bowl XLVII.
But Mosley was the new hotshot rookie from Alabama. He got No. 57, and a few months later, Bynes was released.
Fast forward five years, 31 starts and two teams later, Bynes is back in Baltimore – wearing No. 57.
"I love that number," Bynes said in an episode of The Lounge podcast earlier this year.
On Thursday Night Football, Bynes will be anchoring the middle of Baltimore's linebacker corps, on a defense that's been playing lights out since he arrived, for a team that many believe is headed to the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, Mosley – in Year 1 of a five-year mega-deal he signed with the Jets last offseason – will be watching from somewhere else after having season-ending groin surgery.
Five years ago, Mosley essentially took Bynes' job in Baltimore. When the Ravens struggled to find Mosley's replacement early this season, Bynes took the job back.
"It is what it is. I can't help my departure here was because we got C.J. in the first round. We had Arthur Brown and guys who had money. That was the business side; you can't help that," Bynes said. "But obviously his leaving opened up another door for me and I'm definitely appreciative of it."
After leaving Baltimore, Bynes bounced to the Detroit Lions, then the Arizona Cardinals. Instead of being an injury fill-in like he was in Baltimore, Bynes earned a spot as the legit starter in Detroit and started all 11 games he played in last season for Arizona.
But on March 5, after ending last season on injured reserve, the Cardinals released Bynes. A week later, Mosley signed his reported $85 million contract. Bynes was out of the league all summer, contemplating if this was the end of his career. Mosley was gearing up the second chapter of his.
When Mosley signed his deal with the Jets in March, the Ravens first looked in-house for solutions. They came up with the plan to use Patrick Onwuasor at the MIKE linebacker spot, but that wasn't his natural position and it wasn't working out so well.
After giving up more than 500 yards in back-to-back games against Kansas City and Cleveland, including getting gashed on the ground by the Browns, the Ravens called Bynes back up to help settle down their defense. That's exactly what he's done.
Since adding Bynes, the Ravens have had a massive defensive turnaround. Baltimore's defense now ranks sixth in the NFL, thanks in part to the calming effect Bynes has had since stepping into Mosley's old MIKE linebacker shoes.
"Really that first day he came in trying to learn the defense and everything, you could see how knowledgeable he was about the game and what he knew about offensive schemes," outside linebacker Tyus Bowser said. "That helped us out so much as a defense learning from him and what he sees."
Bynes said one of the first corrections he made when he arrived back in Baltimore was getting his teammates' alignments right. Just being in the right spot before the snap put them that much closer to making the tackle. After that, it was just trusting themselves to make the play.
"Football is football. I think sometimes we just overcomplicate things by thinking too much – especially at linebacker," Bynes said. "I was taught as a young kid not to think too much; you've got to learn how to react. Think and put yourself in position, analyze what might happen before the play. But after that, it's all about reaction."
Bynes and Mosley did spend the summer of 2014 together before Bynes was released. Bynes remembers having many conversations with the rookie back then, imparting as much knowledge as he could on the young pup.
"I was talking to C.J. just as much as I'm talking to all the young guys now about certain things," Bynes said.
"He was a smart player himself; obviously turned himself into a Pro Bowler and then some because he's such a great player. I loved to see him succeed. I paid attention to him once I was gone and it's been great watching him grow into the leader and player he's turned into."
Bynes has a chip on his shoulder from being an undrafted free agent. He's long felt others always viewed him that way, as if there was a cap on his potential.
He's 30 years old now with some gray in his hair, but Bynes is proving that he can still get it done.
"I know for a fact I didn't have the numbers. I'm not the fastest guy in the world," Bynes said. "But the one thing you can't coach in this league is football."