When the Cleveland Browns opted to place the transition tag on center Alex Mack instead of designating him their franchise player, they essentially gambled that no team would knock his socks off with a contract offer. Despite initial estimates of a colossal contract offer from the Jacksonville Jaguars, that is exactly what happened.
The five-year offer sheet, which the Jaguars have extended to Mack, is certainly big. It makes him the highest paid center in the NFL and also allows him flexibility on the length of his contract.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the offer gives Mack $42 million total over five years. Anyone who knows NFL contracts, however, knows that the only real money is what’s guaranteed. Mack would reportedly get $18 million guaranteed over the first two years of the deal. He would then have an option to opt out of the contract after 2015, and the team could not place the franchise tag on him.
But wait, there is more. According to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, the contract also guarantees the entire $8 million of 2016 if Mack decides to not opt out. That would give him a total of $26 million in guaranteed money.
Now here's another wrinkle: Mack gets $8 million FULLY guaranteed in Year 3 if he doesn't void after 2 years. So that's up to $26m in gtd $.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) April 10, 2014
The Jaguars tried to make the deal scary for the Browns. The fact that Mack can opt out in two seasons and the Browns receive no compensation was supposed to be the boogieman buried in the numbers.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, if the Browns want to keep Mack long term that will serve as no deterrent whatsoever.
Think about this, the Browns were willing to pay Mack just over $10 million in 2014 with no guarantee that he would be on the roster past that point. The Jaguars deal, if matched by the Browns, would allow them to guarantee they have Mack for two more seasons at just $9 million per year.
They would get another guaranteed year of his services and save money. If the Browns turned a corner and Mack decided to stay with them past that point then they would actually get him at $8 million the third season. That would save them another $1 million.
Essentially, the Browns can match the offer and have Mack on a two-year, $18 million contract or a three-year $27 million contract. Both of which would be fully guaranteed.
If the Browns were playing competitive football by the end of 2015 then Mack would be crazy to opt out. He would be 30 years old hitting the open market. Most likely he would not pull in a contract larger than the one he would currently have.
If the Browns were willing to have Mack at $10 million for one year then it really isn’t much of a leap to match the Jaguars offer. CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco feels the same way.
I would be shocked if Browns don't match that offer sheet.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) April 10, 2014
So it is not a matter of can they match it but rather if they should?
Despite the fact that the Browns have the most cap space in the NFL and project to continue on a similar path over the next few seasons, I think it would be foolish to pursue Mack. Why pay that much money to a non-impact position occupied by someone who obviously wants to leave the organization?
Mack is a professional. If the Browns match the offer he would not sulk. He would show up to work and give maximum effort. That is just the way he is wired.
While Mack is among the best centers in the NFL, what is that really worth these days? He is 29 years old and plays a position of diminishing value in today’s NFL. The San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos all had centers who made $2.5 million or less last season.
So if the Jaguars goal was to construct a contract that would scare away the Browns then they failed miserably. The Browns showed they were willing to pay those numbers with no guarantee on Mack’s future services once they placed the transition tag on him.
Just because they can match the offer does not mean they should, however. Spending money is easy. Spending it wisely is a much more difficult task.