The Alex Mack Contract Gamble

Alex Mack

On Monday the Browns placed the transition tag on free agent center Alex Mack. If Mack signs the one year tender and does not agree to another deal with the Browns or any other club, he will play for a little over $10 million dollars in 2014.

That would be a nice raise.

In 2013 Mack made his second Pro Bowl, and played every offensive snap of every game for the fifth straight year. He was playing on the last year of his rookie contract and earned a little over $5 million for his services.

The Browns are taking a gamble by placing the transition tag on Mack. The first and obvious gamble is that Mack could be signed by another team to a deal that the Browns are unwilling to match. Let’s say the Raiders (picking a team with a lot of cap space, not because there are rumors of Mack to Oakland) decided to offer Mack a five year contract at $9 million per year. That would make Mack the highest paid center in the league, likely until he’s 33 years old. If the Browns decided that was too rich a deal for them, they would lose Mack and not get anything back from the Raiders in compensation.

One of the reasons that the franchise player tag has been effective for teams wanting to keep a player is that it carries with it a steep price for any team trying to pry that player away. Namely two first round draft picks as compensation. The transition tag doesn’t have such a safeguard.

The second reason the move is a gamble is that the Browns could end up paying their center $10 million dollars next season. The franchise and transition tag numbers in the NFL are based on average salaries of top players at their given position. The problem with placing the tag on a center is that the average salary isn’t determined by using just players that play the center position, but by all offensive linemen, including those expensive left tackles.

If he plays under the transition tag figure, Mack would be the highest paid center in the league by about $2 million dollars. In fact, there are only two centers other than Mack who make over $6.5 million.

This may not seem like a big deal for a club with a lot of money under the cap. Maybe it isn’t. It does seem like a bad business model to pay a player 20-25% more than the market says is the top level for his position.

According to the Browns, they would like to still sign Mack to an extension. If they do, then the transition tag would go away and they would have simply bought some time for negotiations.

What they have bought with time to get the Mack deal accomplished, they lost by having no protection in the event they lose T.J. Ward in free agency.

We don’t know the Browns intended strategy. Perhaps to them, placing the franchise tag on Ward was never really an option. Maybe the current coaching staff is ready to go all in on Jarius Byrd. In that case, letting Ward go by using the transition tag on Mack wouldn’t matter. Getting the three time Pro Bowler Byrd to come to Cleveland shouldn’t be considered a slam dunk however.

Here’s how the gamble plays out. The best case scenario would involve the Browns getting a long term deal done with Mack and signing Ward or Byrd to a free agent deal. That’s a win-win.

The Browns could also sign Mack and miss out on both Ward and Byrd. You would have to score that as a win/lose if the Browns don’t have a Pro Bowl safety next season considering what they are giving up.

Alex Mack and his agent could shop around and not get any official offers. Let’s face it, why put an offer out that you know the Browns are just going to match? Why not let the Browns overpay Mack for a season and then take a run at him in free agency next year? Mack would then sign his one year tender for $10 million dollars and do the whole free agent tango again next season. Hard to call that a real win for the team.

Then the situation exists where the Browns don’t get a deal done with Mack, and don’t match an offer extended to him. They would lose Mack, get no compensation and likely lose Ward in the process.

Browns fans should hope that the Browns are making a calculated gamble that pays off.

  • Adam Copeland

    Nice summary of the issues here Rick. I think the Browns have to do some real selling of themselves to Mack. If Mack decides he doesn’t want to stay in Cleveland long term, I think it’s entirely possible that Mack simply plays for the $10 million salary, which is already a big overpay for a C, this year knowing that he’s likely to hit free agency next year because the Browns would have to pay him an even higher salary for tagging him two years in a row.

  • MrCleaveland

    This just seems like so much unnecessary drama. Why can’t we just sign our Pro Bowlers to extensions without all the Machiavellian maneuvering? It’s not like Mack is 32 and coming off a knee scope. He’s approaching his prime. Just give him a deal and if you have to bite a little bullet, you bite it.

    You win games with talent not with dollar bills, so I hope we’re not being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

  • RGB

    Maybe Jimmy thinks if he waits til next season he can get a rebate.

  • TNB

    Actually I see this as the browns really selling themselves to Mack.

    The roster is obviously wary of turnover and changes. They’ve said so. The front office has already made the decision to move out a ‘veteran leader’ in DQ. Thomas is worried. Ward might not resign. Amid all this Mack is more than likely apprehensive. So, they approach him and say “Look, we want you to do what’s best for you, but we want you here and were ready to pay whatever it takes. See what the market will tell you and we’ll show you.”

    If I’m an employee and my job tells me to see what other people are willing to offer me and being that back to talk about a pay raise, I’m happy, and I think thats what’s going on here.

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t understand why they group all the O lineman together. Do QB, RB, WR, TE, OT, OG, C. How freakin hard is that?

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t know if you can?

  • Natedawg86

    $12 would not be smart on a C. I would not be suprised for him to take 1 yr at 10 then become FA next year unless he gets a multi year worth 8 a year in the next few weeks

  • Natedawg86

    Should start adding contract clauses…if you make PB, team has option to resign player for multiple years using average of top 5 players in the position.

  • If you’re Mack, maybe staying around for this circus is only worth if if you’re clearly the top moneymaker at the position. Maybe that 20-25% over market is the price you pay for the guy to endure. And if the team then actually finds success on the field, maybe he’s willing to make adjustments to increase cap flexibility. If they don’t start winning, at least he’s got the money.

    Much like with Byrd, I’m not sure what any player’s motivation is to come to/stay in Cleveland right now. All things equal, I’d rather go sacrifice my body for the chance to win. To sign with a chronically bad team, they’d better be offering the moon and stars.

  • Chris Mc

    The Byrd rumors continue to baffle me. Gipson had a rather remarkable year last year. He put up much better numbers, stands to make a fraction of the money Byrd will next year and has been healthy.

    How could giving Byrd a huge free agent deal be a win for the Browns?

  • I’m guess it’s to try and avoid the issue the Saints and Jimmy Graham are having right now: what exactly is the player’s position. O-line guys are prone to being shifted around more than most.

  • Chief Blahoo

    I don’t see why the Browns couldn’t sign Ward as well… He’s one of the top safeties in the game, and we’ve got plenty of cap room. Heck it’d be nice to resign him and go after Byrd, though I agree that’d be a lot of money tied up at safety. But still we’d probably have an incredible secondary, with Haden a lockdown corner, Byrd a vulture safety great at pass defense, and Ward a hard hitting safety, good at blitzing and stopping the run.

  • mgbode

    The best case scenario would involve the Browns getting a long term deal done with Mack and signing Ward and Byrd to a free agent deal.

    Fixed it 🙂 I know you don’t think it’s very likely we’d pay that much for our backfield, but if we are going to list a best case scenario, then let’s list THE best case scenario.

  • mgbode

    because Gipson is just under league average for a FS (which was much more than expected and a huge win).

    Byrd is currently the 2nd best FS in the game.

  • RGB

    I guess we must now change our logic patterns.
    Bannermetrics has been replace with Farmernomics.

  • the prevailing thinking of ‘there’s never been a 10M/yr center so we’re overpaying’ needs examination with the focus of the exam on market conditions in march, 2014.

    1. other centers on market: dietrich-smith/pack, de la puenta/saints, goodwin(35)/niners are the only three who grade green; none grade higher than mack.
    2. centers in draft: maybe two with second round grades. maybe.
    3. teams in need: 4 of the 5 worst centers were teams w huge investments at qb: ravens, falcons, pats, colts. they’re all shopping centers and all in decent shape cap wise.

    net: it’s a good year to be an all-pro ufa center.

    lookit: banner is the one who gambled with mack and massively blew it. no way would hubris joe have owned his mistake and signed mack. fortunately he’s gone and farmer dealt with the problem pragmatically.

    given the hand dealt to them, i don’t see any down side to the way berea handled this. the gamble was last summer.

  • Chris Mc

    Byrd is currently the 2nd best FS in the game.

    Every comparable stat that I see would contradict that statement. I’ll admit to watching very little Buffalo football, but I really liked what I saw from Gipson.

  • mgbode
  • mgbode
  • CB Everett

    “The gamble was last summer.”

    We’ve had this debate on here before. No chance prior to the season Mack had the same objections to re-signing/concerns? No chance Mack wanted to play this out to increased dollars? No chance he wanted to see if he could go play closer to NoCal or for a contender?

    I wouldn’t blame him if that was the case–as he had a very good season and the Browns are a bit desperate to appease uneasy fan–both of which bode well for him cashing in. But as much as we lump it on a FO fail–I think you’re doing a discredit to a very smart guy who is playing his hand well.

  • Chris Mc

    I didn’t see any stats there, but I have no doubt that Byrd is better than Gipson. The question I’m asking is “how much better is Byrd compared to the money they make?”

    From a strictly numbers perspective last season, Gipson had the lead in interceptions, yards returned, touchdowns, passes defensed, tackles and assists. I don’t have a subscription to PFF, so I can’t read everything they say about him.

  • mgbode

    yeah, that was why I couldn’t link to the PFF stats.

    Byrd has consistently put up INT, FF, FR numbers. Despite that teams learned to try to stay away from him after his breakout rookie year of 9 INT. The biggest concern with him is that he had plantar fascitis last year and it did slow him down initially.

    But really, it’s not the stats. It’s that Byrd is a free ranging guy in the deep secondary that Gipson just does not have as part of his game. the Ed Reed in his prime attributes.

    As far as money, it is of my opinion that it really doesn’t matter. He is better and we have the cap room to go and get him (even when adjusting for the youngsters that we will have to extend in the upcoming years).

    The real question becomes if Gipson will be okay as the main SS (as despite the calls for the right/left S in Pettine’s D, he will have one closer to the LOS more often than the other). He might be, but it’s another leap as that was not his main job.

  • i know we have done this before but let me repeat where i’m coming from (random order):
    1. abundance of cap room last year;
    2. 35 yr old goodwin was the only ‘name’ center expiring this year;
    3. ravens failed to replace birk in draft of FA;
    4. a precedent-setting contract signed by an all-pro center from same draft class (unger);
    5. berea sources leaking info that they wanted to see him play ‘more physically’ to reputable journos;
    6. no missed starts in four years.

    it’s true that we don’t know with certainty what happened last year but the anecdotal evidence points a super-smart GM/CEO outsmarting the market having determined that either centers aren’t valuable or mack wasn’t that good.

  • davelb87

    The Alex Mack draft day page was linked as a similar article for me…it’s hilarious to see the near 100% negativity toward the pick. Things that amounted to “how dare we trade Mark Sanchez for a Center” and how it was the worst pick ever. Those are probably the same people screaming about how dare they let him go now.

  • CB Everett

    Agreed. Those are good points why they should’ve re-signed him last year, if possible.

    One overarching point though—I’d like to see less of the player driven narratives in the FA discussions (see Vickers, Cribbs, Dawson, Ward and Mack). I can’t believe everyone who has been good in the past 13 years (see above sad list of 4) really wanted to be here and was shown the door because the FO didn’t value them appropriately.

    FAs leave teams all the time for just a little more money or greener pastures. Yet we don’t like to accept our holy Dawson would ever do that to us, and that’s never even considered as a factor in these discussions—and that makes me a little nuts. That’s all.

  • that’s fair. but that being said: being able to extend current guys with liberal use of signing bonuses gives a forward thinking front office huge leverage.

    let’s say you want to keep phil taylor. he’s due 2.8M this year. might not he like a 10M signing bonus this year and so sign now versus risk injury. present value of money and so forth?

    this is the subject of my post today — what it might take to lock in the 2015 FA class (haden, taylor, sheard, cameron, hoyer) and how doing so impacts the actual cap available for this offseason.

  • James Workman

    Exactly! You could’ve franchised Ward and easily had this for at least 1 year.

  • James Workman

    So what you’re saying is that sometimes people can be wrong?

  • James Workman

    So what you’re saying is that sometimes people can be wrong?