To match or not to match? That is the question the Browns face because transition-tagged Pro Bowl center Alex Mack agreed to terms on an offer sheet from the Jacksonville Jaguars and will sign the five-year deal by Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday.
Once Mack signs the offer sheet, the Browns will have five days to match it, and, according to Schefter, the organization won’t hesitate to do so. If the Browns match the offer sheet, Mack will return to Cleveland under the terms of the deal constructed by his lead agent, Marvin Demoff, and the Jaguars.
Citing an unnamed source, Schefter reported this morning that the Browns figure to match the offer sheet “in no time at all.” ProFootballTalk.com also reported “the Browns will likely match the offer.”
Some financial terms of the offer sheet have surfaced.
ProFootballTalk.com reported the Jaguars’ offer sheet includes a provision that can void the deal at Mack’s election to as little as two years. The deal pays about $18-20 million fully guaranteed in the first two years and about $27 million guaranteed in the first three years, according to PFT.
If Mack had signed the transition tag the Browns placed on him last month after the two sides failed to reach a long-term agreement, he would’ve made $10.039 million guaranteed in 2014. So if the offer sheet pays $20 million guaranteed in the first two years, it would make sense for the Browns to match it without blinking because they'd be getting Mack for less than if they had used a transition or franchise tag the next two seasons.
The deal will make Mack, 28, the highest-paid center in the NFL, trumping the six-year, $49 million contract Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil signed in 2011. Kalil’s deal includes $28 million guaranteed and an $18 million signing bonus.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas expressed confidence Mack would return to Cleveland when they addressed the media Tuesday night before an advance screening of Draft Day at a Cinemark theater in Valley View.
“We remain optimistic that Alex Mack will be a Cleveland Brown for a long time,” Haslam said Tuesday. “We want him to be. I think we’ve made it very clear that he’s the kind of person, the kind of player we want in our organization.”
Asked if he’s prepared to match anything the Jaguars might offer, Haslam smiled and said, “We want Alex to be a Cleveland Brown.”
The Browns showed that retaining Mack is a top priority for them when Haslam, General Manager Ray Farmer, coach Mike Pettine and others traveled to California to meet with Mack at the beginning of March in an attempt to strike a long-term deal. A few days after the two sides failed to reach an agreement, the Browns placed a transition tag on Mack.
The Browns have the means to outbid the Jaguars. They have $30.8 million in salary-cap space, most in the league, according to the NFL Players Association. The Jaguars have 25.1 million, ranking third in the NFL.
Mack visited the Jaguars last week and came away impressed. He had dinner with General Manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley on Friday night before leaving Saturday morning.
Despite the meeting, Mack’s best friend on the Browns, Thomas, said Tuesday he was confident Mack would return to Cleveland for at least next season.
“There’s no doubt that he’ll be here at least this year,” said Thomas, who’s under contract with the Browns through 2018. “I think that’s for certain. I certainly hope we can sign him to a long-term deal and keep him here for much longer than I am here.”
Pettine sounded less certain about Mack’s contract situation when he spoke to beat writers Wednesday during a conference call than Haslam and Thomas a day earlier.
“It’s a situation that’s very fluid,” Pettine said. “I’m not that comfortable talking about it because it is an ongoing contractual thing. Anytime you’re in a situation where it’s a tag, I just feel like guys feel like, ‘Hey, nothing’s happened so far.’ So there might be some optimism there, but it’s something that’s very fluid, and it can change day to day.”
Pettine also insisted he’s not concerned about Mack missing the beginning of the Browns’ offseason workout program, which started Monday.
“It’s not critical,” Pettine said. “All of the offseason stuff is voluntary with the exception of the [mandatory minicamp in June]. I was in Baltimore. We really only had in town maybe five or six starters defensively at one time and then we would have all of them in for the mandatory camp. I think it's important, but I don't think it's critical. I think he's certainly smart enough that he will be able to -- if we do get him on campus -- he will be able to make up for that lost time.”
If the Browns match the offer sheet, they’ll get Mack on campus. They’ll also avoid a public-relations nightmare, send a message that they won’t simply let players off the hook who behave as if they want to leave and prevent a gaping hole from forming on their offensive line.
Farmer has received criticism for using a transition tag on Mack instead of a franchise tag.
The cost for a franchise tag would have been $11.654 million as opposed to $10.039 million for a transition tag. But if Mack had been franchised, any other team that signed him would’ve been required to surrender two first-round picks to the Browns.Because the Browns used a transition tag, they would not receive any draft-pick compensation if Mack left.
The Browns will be able to say Farmer’s risky decision to use a transition tag worked out if they match the offer sheet.
The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career last season (he was an injury replacement in 2011). He also was named second-team All Pro.
Mack has played all 4,998 snaps since the Browns drafted him in the first round (21st overall) in 2009 out of the University of California. ProFootballFocus.com ranked him fourth among all NFL centers last season.
If the Browns lose Mack, it would be a significant blow. John Greco, who started at left guard last season, can play center in a pinch, but the team would likely need to draft one. Greco has never started a game at center in his six NFL seasons.