Alex Mack's Contract Situation Has Worked out Perfectly for Cleveland Browns

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIApril 12, 2014

David Richard

The Cleveland Browns risked losing star center Alex Mack this offseason by designating him with the transition tag, but it all worked out for the best for new general manager Ray Farmer.

Mack signed a five-year offer sheet worth a reported $42 million put forth by the Jacksonville Jaguars, which Cleveland matched with little hesitation. Farmer shared his thoughts on the matter once the front office decided to retain the two-time Pro Bowler, per's Kevin Jones:

We have talked about keeping our own players and this is a positive for us. Alex is a quality person and player that truly brings to life what playing like a Brown means. ... The ending is positive for everyone. Keeping our young, good nucleus of players is vital for clubs and specifically the Browns, and therefore this is a good step.

Since the Jags failed to make much of a convincing offer, they spared the Browns a lot of stress in what was no doubt a difficult dilemma.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the contract includes a provision where Mack can opt out after two seasons without being hit with the franchise or transition tag. That essentially only has the team committed to paying him $18 million in salary, with $26 million guaranteed overall.

Center is not one of the most important positions in the NFL, but it certainly helps to have one of the league's elite players at any spot on the roster.

Investing that much in Mack in the short term should make the center happy for the time being, and he has the flexibility to opt out if he so desires. Plus, if he does stay on for the entirety of the contract, the guaranteed money will become less of a big hit should Mack choose to leave instead.

Nathan Zegura of CBS Sports feels like it was a mutually beneficial solution for both sides:

Sep 9, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack (55) sits on the bench against the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns lose to the Eagles 16-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Spo
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

This deal also doesn't devastate the Browns in terms of cap space. They entered this offseason with more money to spend than most, and Farmer was aggressive in upgrading the roster through free agency.

However, with three picks in the top 35 in the upcoming draft, there should be a core of young players due for substantial paydays once their rookie contracts expire. Mack's contract won't be a detriment to that situation when it arrives.

If Jacksonville really wanted to make matters more trying, general manager Dave Caldwell could have sweetened the deal for Mack by offering more in guarantees or even adding in a big signing bonus. Neither was the case in the reported deal, and ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi criticized Caldwell for his lack of valor:

Both the Jaguars and the Browns were clearly hesitant to overpay Mack given the numerous needs they both have as each franchise seeks to bounce back from years of losing. But Farmer did an exceptional job in handling this situation with the rarely utilized transition tag. Now he has to look forward to the top of the draft, where the Browns' most pressing need, quarterback, figures to be addressed.

Cleveland has Brian Hoyer as the projected starter unless a rookie comes in to unseat him, but he tore his ACL last season and is far from a surefire franchise QB, with just four NFL starts under his belt.

Mack would certainly welcome some stability under center, as it's something he hasn't enjoyed in his five-year Browns career. At least an upgrade is likely in the rushing attack, with the tenacious Mack returning to the fold and Ben Tate arriving from the Houston Texans to be the prospective No. 1 back.

Physicality is key in the AFC North, and losing such a strong blocking presence as Mack would have been tough to overcome as the Browns seek to dig out of the division's cellar.

Farmer worked this Mack scenario to perfection and added some great free-agent pieces to make the team more competitive. However, he won't receive any kudos for those accomplishments unless the team starts winning. That hinges on nailing the most critical draft Cleveland has had since reentering the league in 1999.