Four weeks ago, before millions and millions of NFL free agency dollars were committed, Alex Mack’s agent got boastful with Peter King who wrote it up for his MMQB column. It caused anyone with half a memory for the NFL to go searching for rule books and articles in Google with the keyword “poison pill” as the discerning criteria. And as a thousand Internet researchers hit the enter key to confirm their inklings that “poison pill” contracts were illegal, it was easy to imagine Mack’s agent sitting somewhere with his eyes shut tightly and with his fingers crossed that somehow he could will the reality of the situation away. It’s hard to conclude anything other than the notion that Alex Mack wants out of Cleveland, but it’s even harder to conclude that he’ll find his way out this year.
Free agency arrived in a blast like a wild week-long party with booze and money flying out and almost nobody caring about what their tab could read by the end of the night. It’s only those sober moments thirty days later when the credit card bill arrives that you wonder if the fun was really worth it all. In the moment you know it’s worth it. My tab? Keep it open! Regardless, it’s long past closing time and Alex Mack missed the whole thing thanks to the Browns’ transition tag.
I hope that Mack’s agent’s boastfulness wasn’t sold to Alex as a likely reality. Despite the fact that Mack doesn’t appear to want to be in Cleveland, on most days I don’t really blame him. There have been a lot of days in the last decade-plus that my (mostly) willing association with the Browns hasn’t felt worth it either. Fans understand what it’s like to have a tag put on them even more so than Mack. Not to be trite, but it isn’t a lie when we say most of our franchise tags were placed on us at birth.
Now that Mack has had his first (known) free agency visit with the Jacksonville Jaguars, it seems all that much more likely that the Browns were pretty savvy about the whole situation when they decided to apply the transition tag back in March. Ray Farmer was willing to pay Alex Mack a lot of money, but he also seemed very aware of two basic facts: There were only a couple of teams that could do more for Alex Mack than the Browns in terms of salary cap space; and even if a team could make the Browns re-signing of Alex Mack really painful, they’d have to face the possibility that they too would be paying a ridiculous amount of money for a center.
Nobody seems to be debating the merits of having a good or very good player like Alex Mack on their team. Who wouldn’t want a guy who never misses games, plays hard to every single whistle and has attended multiple Pro Bowls? The problem for Mack and his agent in their quest to get out of Cleveland, isn’t just that the Browns have plenty of money. They also play in a market with perfect information. Everyone knows that the top cap hits for NFL centers are just over $7 million and don’t begin to approach the $10 million that the Browns will be on the hook for in 2014 if (or when) Mack signs his transition tag.
That makes me want to ask Mack’s agent a question in a quiet off-the-record moment: Were you just blowing smoke about getting Mack out of Cleveland or did you really believe it? What kind of deal did you have in mind that would have been difficult for the Browns to match?
And again, I’m (a little bit) sorry for Mack that he’s not getting to do what he wants or that he might be spending this off-season disappointed. I’m not that sorry though.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Mack was looking forward to free agency, talking about “testing the waters” and such. Instead, Mack missed the free agency Mardi Gras. He’s left trying to scrounge a drink on Bourbon Street while trying to avoid the cleansing hose that tries to wash away the evidence of another NFL off-season spending spree. It’s not all that bad though. At worst, Alex Mack will be the highest paid center in the league for a season if he signs Cleveland’s offer to pay him just over $10 million for 2014. It may not be what he wanted or what his agent’s wishful thinking desired to deliver, but it’s still a pretty solid consolation prize.