The Cleveland Browns hardly flinched before agreeing to match the offer sheet that center Alex Mack signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, despite that offer sheet containing language that gives the player the ability to void the last three years of the five-year contract, which just so happens to contain a front-loaded guaranteed money value.
The Browns gambled this offseason, perhaps in part through necessity, by placing the rarely used transition tag on Mack, which only grants the team the right of first refusal to match any contract offer the player is given.
The organization was going through one of its seemingly yearly makeovers, firing their head coach, general manager, and CEO. The resultant job searches put some of their free agency plans on the back burner, which included tabling contract discussions with Mack, who was certainly their biggest free agent to hit the market.
After the dust finally settled, the Browns have now signed Mack to a long-term deal with the help of the Jaguars, though as previously mentioned, whether that deal winds up long-term down the road hinges more on Mack than it does on the Browns.
The question for Pittsburgh Steelers fans, of course, is how this might affect potential negotiations with center Maurkice Pouncey, who was named to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons in the league before missing just about all of last season with a torn ACL and is now entering the final season of his rookie contract.
No doubt the eventual contract negotiations will feel the ramifications of Mack’s deal regardless of whether they end up taking place this season—which is far from guaranteed—or next season.
The contract that Mack signed makes him the highest-paid center in the league, now edging out the six-year, $49 million contract signed by Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil back in 2011, which paid out $24 million guaranteed.
Mack’s new contract, however, will likely be the new benchmark, with its average annual payout in the vicinity of $8 million. I am of the mind that the Browns matching the contract is a negative for the front office in future negotiations.
Most readily, the Browns choosing to match the contract obviously means that there were at least two teams ready and willing to pay a center that salary, even under terms favorable to the player regarding control over the life of the contract.
As much as many may argue that Pouncey is overrated and that his shoes were easily filled by journeymen in his stead last season (the merits of said arguments I will not debate), there is no disputing that he has the hardware, having earned All-Pro respect in every season in which he’s been healthy. You can bet that his agent is well aware of that.
The biggest ball to drop, of course, is Pouncey’s knee and how he responds on the field. Until he proves that he hasn’t missed a beat on that knee, he’s currently at a negotiating disadvantage, whether or not it might be slight.
If the two parties choose to negotiate later this summer, it will be based largely on projections. If Pouncey wants to gamble on himself and try to have another All-Pro season on that knee for greater leverage next season—to cement the argument that he deserves to be the highest-paid center in the game—then Mack’s contract, and the fact that at least two teams were willing to match it, will be the starting point of the negotiations.