Browns confident they'll keep Mack

The Cleveland Browns made an interesting decision Monday that they feel will keep center Alex Mack with the team.

The Browns declined to make Mack their franchise player and instead made him the transition player. That means the Browns can match any offer he receives on the free-agent market. But if they don't, they will receive no compensation if he goes to another team. The franchise tag would have cost more but would have given the Browns two first-round draft picks as compensation -- a price no team would pay for a center. It will be interesting to see if another team is willing to overpay Mack to the point that the Browns would not match.

Safety T.J. Ward was not tagged and will become a free agent March 11 if he does not sign a new deal. Buffalo also did not tag safety Jarius Byrd, which opens the floodgates of speculation that new coach Mike Pettine will try to bring Byrd from the Bills to the Browns. Pettine was Byrd's defensive coordinator last season in Buffalo.

The transition tag means Mack will be paid $10.039 million if he signs the one-year deal.

The franchise tag would have cost the Browns $11.6 milion.

For $1.6 million, the Browns could have guaranteed Mack would be back. The risk by not doing so is they give Mack's agent Marvin Demoff the chance to craft a contract the Browns won't want to match. Demoff is one of the best player agents working.

However, the team clearly feels the ability to match will be enough of a deterrent to Mack signing elsewhere. The $10.04 million figure is on the high end for centers, and the Browns could actually save salary-cap costs by matching another offer because Mack is not likely to be paid $10 million per year on the open market.

Among the league's top-paid centers are the following, with their per-year average pay and their salary-cap figure for this season:

  • Carolina's Ryan Kalil -- $8.186 million per year, $7.284, million under the salary cap

  • New York Jets' Nick Mangold -- $7.725 million per year, $7.227 million under the cap

  • Buffalo's Eric Wood -- $6.35 million per year, $5.95 million under the camp

  • Philadelphia's Ryan Kelce -- $6.25 million per year, $2.622 million under the cap

  • Houston's Chris Myers -- $6.25 million per year, $7 million under the cap

  • Seattle's Max Unger -- $6.23 million per year, $6.1 million under the cap

The Browns no doubt feel confident they're retained their center – and saved themselves $1.6 million cap room by using the transition tag on him.