Dec 15, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns strong safety T.J. Ward (43) gets congratulations from guard Jason Pinkston (62) after returning a fumble for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Browns have until 4pm today to use franchise tag

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The Cleveland Browns have until 4pm today to decide if they want to use the franchise tag.  The team has not used it since they applied to Phil Dawson two seasons ago.  Unlike in basically any year since the franchise tag’s inception, the team actually has candidates that would warrant using it.  Both Alex Mack and T.J. Ward would make a great deal of sense with the tag should the team want to go that route.

Ward has long been thought the guy who was expected to be tagged.  First, Ward has basically embraced the idea.  He would get around $8.3 million for the year, which would be more money than he has made in his entire career to this point.  The Browns would get a year of Ward to see if he fits in what head coach Mike Pettine wants to do and if he can stay healthy.  Ward has finished two seasons in his career.  This past year, which had him go to the Pro Bowl and his rookie year.

Ward is a terrific in the box safety who can help in coverage, but can look like a fish out of water playing deep.  He also puts a lot of pressure on the free safety to be good deep.  Nevertheless, Ward is a terrific run defender who can help with tight ends and play well in underneath coverage.  The Browns actually would use him as a nickel linebacker to increase his utility, which was a good fit for him.

Meanwhile, Mack would be a costly franchise tag and something Mack would not want, but if the Browns are concerned he is going to leave anyway, they can use the tag to keep him for a year while they work to find his eventual replacement at the center spot.  Having a veteran pivot would really be valuable if they want to go with a rookie quarterback.  Additionally, Mack seems like he is a better fit in a zone scheme, which the Browns appear to want to run under Kyle Shanahan, as opposed to the gap scheme they ran under Rob Chudzinski.  Mack is athletic and a great pass protector and while he can run block, he has never been a mauler like Nick Mangold.  In terms of range and being able to pull and move, Mack may be better suited, so if the Browns feel getting a long term deal is not possible or the value is not there for them in terms of money, the franchise tag could come into play.

It is also possible the Browns may not use the tag on anyone.  Whether it is because the Browns feel they can get and want to get long term deals done or they simply do not like their fits and values with this team is unclear.  The other part of this whole situation is the Browns; overwhelming amount of cap room.  The Browns have in the neighborhood of $50 million after the rookie pool money is taken out of the equation.  At that point, the question is, if the Browns do not want to use the money on Mack and Ward, where do they want to spend it?  There have been negotiations with Joe Haden, and some other players on the horizon including Jordan Cameron, Jabaal Sheard, Buster Skrine and Brian Hoyer, but they will not eat up all of that money.  Perhaps they are looking at free agency and seeing players they like and want to bring in to bolster the team.

There could be some answers by 4pm today, but it also could just change the questions that are ultimately asked.  The franchise tag represents a means of leverage for the Browns if they use it.  Applying the tag means a player can sign it and immediately get the one year deal, but there have been examples where the players has waited and continued to negotiate under the tag.  Ward might be inclined to sign it while Mack may want to wait and see what types of offers he can get.

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