Things are about to turn serious for the Cleveland Browns.
By Friday, the Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to sign center Alex Mack to a five-year offer sheet, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Browns will have five days to match the offer, but the fact it's happening indicates it will not be simple. Too, the fact it's happening drives home one point louder than loud and clear: Mack no longer wants to be in Cleveland.
Jacksonville’s offer will make Mack the NFL’s highest paid center by a wide margin, Schefter reported, and he has decided he’d rather earn that money in North Florida than North Ohio.
The Browns have said all along that they want Mack to be in Cleveland for years. Owner Jimmy Haslam told reporters just that on Tuesday night at a pre-screening of Kevin Costner’s new Cleveland-based movie “Draft Day,” but the devil (as always) will be in the details.
The Browns took a calculated gamble when they decided to save $1.6 million and not make Mack the franchise player. That would have taken him off the market. By making Mack their transition player, they can match -- but they also gave one of the shrewdest agents working, Marvin Demoff, the chance to see what he could do for his client.
The main key will be how the five-year offer is structured, and whether Mack tells the Browns he simply does not want to be with them anymore.
As of April 7, the Browns had the cap space to match almost any offer. ESPN’s Roster Management System had them with $31 million in cap space, with the Jaguars sitting with $25 million.
The Browns entered free agency with more than $49 million, which clearly indicates they intended to match any offer Mack received. Jacksonville -- and probably Demoff -- waited for the spending spree to take place before securing their offer, complicating things a tiny bit.
Now the Browns must weigh the offer sheet with several other needs, among them the desire to extend contracts of other key players, including cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Jordan Cameron, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, linebacker Jabaal Sheard and, perhaps most important, receiver Josh Gordon. They also have 10 draft picks to pay -- including two first-rounders -- and if Brian Hoyer works out as the team’s quarterback, the Browns also would have to address his future; he is on the second season of a two-year deal.
Prior to seeing the offer for Mack, matching would be the strongest likelihood. But if the contract is beyond what the Browns want to pay their center, they will have a decision to make. One factor in using the transition tag and not the franchise tag was because the Browns felt the franchise number was well out of the range of the top paid center. Presumably this offer will be worth more than the transition tag figure. Another question is whether Mack wants to be a Brown. If he doesn’t, is it worth making him the league’s highest paid center?
Mack’s transition tender would have paid him $10.039 million. Another $1.6 million and the team could have secured him at least for this season.
The Browns chose not to do so.
Their next choice will depend on the details they will soon receive.