The Browns have placed a transition tag on Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, the team announced this afternoon.
ESPN first reported the move. The NFL’s deadline to tag players passed at 4 p.m. today.
By placing a transition tag on Mack, the Browns can lock him into a one-year contract for $10.039 million.
Other teams can offer Mack a contract once free agency begins at 4 p.m. March 11, but the Browns would have five days to match it. If the Browns elect not to match an offer, they would not receive any draft-pick compensation in return for letting Mack walk.
The Browns have $56.9 million in salary-cap space, second-most in the NFL, according to OverTheCap.com. The team will continue to negotiate with Mack in hopes of reaching a long-term deal.
Meanwhile, Browns Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward did not receive a tag, and he’s scheduled to become a free agent March 11. A team may not use a transition tag and a franchise tag in the same year.
The transition tag has become seldom used because, as of 2007, the money became fully guaranteed. The price for the transition tag is the average of the 10 highest-paid players at a position -- $10.039 million in Mack’s case because all offensive linemen are part of the equation, not just centers. This is the first time the Browns have used a transition tag.
The franchise tag gives a player the average salary of the five highest-paid players at his position. It would’ve cost the Browns $11.6 million to franchise Mack and $8.4 million to franchise Ward. The Browns used a franchise tag twice on kicker Phil Dawson in 2011 and 2012 before he signed with the San Francisco 49ers last year.
Mack, 28, was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career (he was an injury replacement in 2011) and named second-team All Pro following last season. He 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 the 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack fourth among all NFL centers last season.
New Browns coach Mike Pettine made it clear Feb. 22 at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Browns want to re-sign Mack. Pettine said he was eager to meet with Mack and sell him on his vision for the organization. NFL Network reported the meeting took place this past weekend.
“I welcome that because once he sits down and he senses where we’re headed and I can lay out the philosophy and the program from A to Z, and hopefully, we have that shared vision of what it should look like going forward, and it’s something he wants to be a part of,” Pettine said. “I am confident when he sits in front of [offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] and [offensive line coach] Andy [Moeller] and [assistant offensive line coach] George DeLeone, that he’ll feel the same way.”
As for Ward, his future could be affected by another player who wasn’t tagged, Buffalo Bills three-time Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd. If Byrd flees Buffalo in free agency, Cleveland could be a logical landing spot because Pettine spent last season as the Bills’ defensive coordinator. If the Browns decide to pursue Byrd, they would likely let Ward walk.
“I had a great time with him in Buffalo,” Pettine said of Byrd Feb. 22 at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He’s an outstanding player.”
Byrd, 27, made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons and as a rookie in 2009, when the Bills drafted him in the second round (42nd overall) out of the University of Oregon. The Bills franchised Byrd last year, and he boycotted the tag by holding out until late August. He then missed the first five games of the season because of plantar fasciitis in both feet.
This past weekend, the Associated Press reported Byrd rejected an offer from the Bills that would have paid him about $30 million during the first three seasons of the contract. In five seasons, he has compiled 22 interceptions, including a career-high nine as a rookie, 11 forced fumbles and five recoveries.
Ward, 27, is coming off his best season since the Browns drafted him in the second round (38th overall) out of Oregon in 2010. Although he had missed time with injuries in previous years, Ward played all 16 games last season and 96.9 percent of the defensive snaps. He finished second on the team with a career-high 129 tackles, including 15 for loss and two sacks, to go along with two interceptions, nine passes defensed, one fumble recovery and two defensive touchdowns. He was named second-team All Pro and became an injury replacement for Pittsburgh Steelers star Troy Polamalu in the Pro Bowl.
The 5-10, 200-pound Ward finished last season tied for third among all NFL safeties in ProFootballFocus.com’s rankings. The website ranked the 5-10, 203-pound Byrd eighth.
Although Tashaun Gipson has been cast as a free safety with the Browns while Ward has played strong safety, Pettine said the safeties in his system aren’t forced into those traditional roles. In other words, it’s not inconceivable for Byrd to be paired with Gipson, whom Pettine described as “a solid player.”
“We don’t talk about our guys in terms of free and strong [safeties],” Pettine said. “Our guys are interchangeable. I think that’s key to our success, having guys who have the interchangeable skill set to do both. Teams can force safeties to change jobs anyway because of some of the things they can do pre-snap. So we want guys who can do both.”
Pettine met with beat writers tonight during the Cleveland Auto Show at the I-X Center to discuss placing the transition tag on Mack along with several other topics. Click here to read the story.