On Monday, the Cleveland Browns dusted off the much-unused transition tag in an attempt to lock down center Alex Mack to a one-year, $10.039 million deal. It was a curious decision considering the Browns had over $56 million in salary cap space prior to giving the tag to Mack.
Under the transition tag, the Browns will be able to match any offer Mack receives from an interested team. However, if Mack takes a deal elsewhere, the Browns would not get any compensation in return. Under the franchise tag, worth $11.654 million for offensive linemen, the Browns would get two first-round draft picks if Mack moves on.
Considering the difference of just $1 million between the two tags and the Browns' cap situation, it looks like the team painted itself into a corner that it didn't have to. The Browns have opened themselves up to Mack being poached by a rival without getting anything in return. However, the likelihood of this happening is low, even though Mack has yet to agree to the tag.
|Alex Mack, A Career Snapshot|
|Years in NFL||5|
|All Pros||1 (2nd team)|
|Total Snaps, 2013||1,150|
|Sacks Allowed, 2013||2|
|QB Hits Allowed, 2013||5|
|QB Hurries Allowed, 2013||18|
|via Pro Football Focus (subscription required), ESPN|
The reason for giving Mack such an open-ended tag is to see what offers come in for him, setting his market value and allowing the Browns to sign him to a long-term deal that matches his worth. On paper, his value seems high. At 28 years of age, Mack has never missed a game in his five-year career—that's 80 consecutive starts, all in Cleveland. He's a two-time Pro Bowler and was a second-team All Pro for 2013.
Most impressively is how he handled the tumultuous 2013 season. Mack was Pro Football Focus' fourth-ranked center (subscription required) for the year, having personally given up just 25 quarterback pressures—two sacks, five hits and 18 hurries—in 1,150 offensive snaps.
He did this while the Browns rotated quarterbacks between Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell. Further, Cleveland's offense led the league in pass attempts, with 681. Few other centers could have maintained such a high level of production in such a situation.
The 2013 season underscores just how talented and reliable Mack is—which certainly will make him desirable to other teams. But it also underscores how ridiculous it would be for the Browns to let him go. So ridiculous, in fact, that it's extremely unlikely that it happens.
Centers of Mack's talent and experience level aren't expendable commodities. The Browns are simply playing a game of economics with Mack and his next contract. At $10.039 million, Mack will be the league's highest-paid center for 2014. Though they can afford it, the Browns would most likely not want to pay him that much for one year of service.
Allowing another team to come calling gives the Browns at least a baseline value of a long-term deal for Mack—it is not an indication that the Browns think they can find someone of Mack's caliber for less money. The transition tag allows for Mack to get a fair contract that ideally won't be one penny more than the Browns are willing to spend.
The Browns are sending two messages about Mack by assigning him the transition tag—one, is that price is no object; the other being their willingness to let the market define his next contract, even if it is one that inches close to the payday afforded him by the tag.
Other teams can come calling all they want, but it is the Browns who hold all the leverage. They have no plans to lose him, which is why the franchise tag and its bounty of two first-round picks is of no interest to the Browns. There's little chance that Mack will be snapping the football for any other team in 2014. The transition tag is simply a tool to figure out how much it will truly cost them for that to happen.