For a franchise that has more salary cap space than anybody in the league, the Cleveland Browns certainly seem hesitant to spend it on one of the franchise’s best players, that being center Alex Mack.
Instead of applying the franchise tag on him, the Browns chose the slightly cheaper route—by less than $2 million—applying the rarely used transition tag on him instead.
The Pittsburgh Steelers did the same on outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who agreed to sign his almost immediately.
Mack, however, was in no hurry to agree to the terms of the transition tag, and chose to shop his services around. The transition tag merely gives the designating team the ability to match any contract offered by another team.
The Jacksonville Jaguars agreed to terms with Mack on a contract yesterday that would make him highest paid player at his position in the league. It is expected, naturally, to be designed to be difficult or painful for the Browns to match.
According to Pro Football Focus, the contract is supposed to pay out up to $20 million guaranteed over the first two seasons, $27 million over the first three.
Most interesting, however, is that the contract will supposedly feature a voidable player option that could reduce the deal essentially to a two-year contract.
Mack has made it pretty clear that he wishes to play out this contract in Jacksonville, not in Cleveland, which may be the Browns’ biggest obstacle. There is some bad blood between Mack and the organization, as Mary Kay Cabot recounted for Cleveland.com:
If Mack signs the offer sheet, he’s well aware that the Browns can match, and he’s fully prepared to return to Cleveland and play out the contract.
But he’d have to overcome some of the bad blood that’s occurred throughout the negotiation process. For starters, he wasn’t thrilled that the Browns waited so long to approach him about a new deal last season instead of wrapping him in the summer. When negotiations didn’t go well, the Browns shelved talks and planned to revisit them in January. But those plans were derailed when the Browns fired coach Rob Chudzinski and then CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi.
The meeting in California, which included coach Mike Pettine, general manager Ray Farmer and team president Alec Scheiner, also didn’t go well and may have made things worse, a source said. Upon returning home, the Browns designated Mack as their transition player, which rankled him. Not only was he unable to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent, the Browns chose the seldom-used transition tag instead of the franchise tag, which would’ve paid Mack a guaranteed $11.6 million for 2014.
Had the Browns franchised him, Mack would’ve been more motivated to negotiate a long-term deal with the club. Instead, he sought to solicit offers from other teams, and now the Browns are in jeopardy of losing him — unless they pay up big.
How much money do they want to commit to a player that would rather be somewhere else? That is what makes the voidable option so interesting.
If Mack has the power to bow out after two seasons, in a contract devised by another team trying to steal him away, then the Browns have to think long and hard about whether or not they want to match that offer.
On the other hand, Cleveland could be concerned about saving face. Surely they would like to protect the new regime from public scrutiny, which would be a certainty should they lose another one of their best players in free agency.
Who would have predicted, heading into free agency, that the Browns would lose back Mack and safety T.J. Ward in free agency, their top two players hitting the market? Granted, they replaced the latter with Donte Whitner.
The Browns must be seriously considering the decision to hire Denis Leary to the head coaching position right about now for helping put them in this position.