The Cleveland Browns’ strategy with handling Alex Mack’s contract situation under general manager Ray Farmer has been brilliant. The team will now have Mack locked up for two years with the potential for more as opposed to one under the franchise tag. If a ball was dropped, it was dropped by Joe Banner by not negotiating an extension for Mack last year, which would have kept him in house longer and potentially saved some money, but considering the cards Farmer was dealt, he was extremely calculated and smart with his tactic.
When Mack initially went onto the market, the team placed the transition tag on him as opposed to the franchise tag. The difference in money was negligible (about $1.5 million), but the franchise tag basically guaranteed that Mack was going to be locked up for a year and then the team could lose him. By virtue of the transition tag, the Browns were able to give teams the opportunity to do their legwork for them and keep Mack longer. About half a dozen teams had interest in the Browns pivot, but most opted not to pursue and went in different directions to address their situation.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and general manager David Caldwell gave it their best shot. They negotiated an offer sheet that was worth $42 million total over 5 years, which is a hefty sum for a center, but they put in a two year opt out in as a way to make it more difficult for Cleveland to match. The problem is while the opt out is not ideal, it still represents a better option for the Browns.
Had the Browns placed the franchise tag on Mack, it would have been a 1 year deal for a little over $11 million. The tender for the transition tag was a little over $10 million. The offer sheet Mack is scheduled to sign tomorrow schedules Mack to make $18 million over two seasons. It is a large amount of money, but for the Browns, they are basically spending an extra $7 million for another year. It is a good amount of money, but they can afford it and it gives them an extra year to try to convince Mack it is in his best interest to stay in Cleveland.
In an interview on Bull and Fox, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, who reported the framework of the deal, said that nothing he has heard would suggest Mack was unwilling to play in Cleveland. According to him, the team has done quite a bit to heal wounds that were caused in negotiations between Mack’s agent and Banner. In the end, it sounds like Mack just wanted to maximize his value while giving himself options. He sufficiently managed to do both with this proposed deal.
The other part of this deal that makes it an intriguing option for the Browns is that when the two years ends, Mack will be 30. Now, when it comes to offensive linemen, that is not old. However, if they do find and develop a center behind Mack, it would make it easier to part ways after two more seasons. Both sides have the ability to keep this going longer, but if they need to make room with the cap or are really happy with a new center for a substantially cheaper contract, Mack opting would not be the end of the world.
People can make the argument that $18 million is too much for a center, but the reality is from a fan’s point of view, it is all monopoly money anyway. The person getting it really does not matter, provided it does not impact the salary cap and the ability to bring in or retain other players they want. Keeping Mack in the fold for those two seasons should not have a prohibitive effect on that ability for a couple reasons.
If the Browns are a substantially improved team, which is easier said than done, Mack can decide to restructure and move the money around, but it probably will not even come to that. With a player like Athyba Rubin coming off of the books next year, that is an additional $8.3 million the team will have available. Beyond that, the the salary cap is expected to go up dramatically, which would create room for the Browns to sign other players.
And to Mack and his agent’s credit, they did what they sought to do. $18 million over 2 years with the ability to simply keep that contract or potentially cash in again was pretty much their best situation. The fact that everything suggests he will continue to be doing it in Cleveland seems perfectly fine, provided he is getting paid that well. It took them a while to do it but they found another team willing to bite and make a play for Mack. Wherever he is, he is getting a great contract.
The only way the Browns lose in this deal is if they decide that they are not going to match. Nothing about the situation suggests they are going to do that. Mack has been their top priority since the free agency period has begun and they have built up expectations to keep him themselves. Not only has Mack never missed a snap in his career, but he is the type of player the team is adamant they want to want to play in Cleveland. He fits the culture they are trying to build. It might be a lot for a center, but the average fan on the street does not care. It is not their money he is making. They just want a great player to stay in Cleveland and everything about this move suggests that will be the case for at least two more years. Farmer got his man and worked it so he got an extra year in the process. Well done. Now, they have to find a quarterback to take his snaps.