July 30, 2014

Alex Mack might have missed the party

Mack

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.

QUOTENow 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.

  • davelb87

    What a shame…I hope he gets comfort while crying in to the piles of money he’s about to get.

  • saggy

    i can’t agree 100% with the opinion that Mack doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. I really feel like his agent would have made it clear to the Browns before they transition-tagged him. It would make sense on many fronts: The Browns could feel they needed to franchise him, or just sign him outright, or trade him. But I think there would have been some communication there between agent and team because those avenues all lead to either more money or a change of scenery – or even both.

    Also, I don’ think the Browns want a player who doesn’t want to be there. I get that it’s a business and that you can’t go releasing all the guys who would rather be in Seattle, but for there to be a good chemistry, you’d think the Browns would be at least a little in tune with the feelings of their All-Pro center.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I still don’t know if this is quite correct, though it’s certainly possible. I believe that Mack wants more money than the Browns were offering him in a long-term deal, but the Browns weren’t just going to let him be a regular free agent. They gave him the transition tag to allow him to try to see what he could get on the market, and the agent was just trying to persuade other teams that they were real about it, not just trying to maximize whatever the Browns would give him. A franchise tag guarantees no offers; a transition tag just makes it hard, and they thought they could coax an offer out of someone, and if the Browns match, he’d be fine with it.

    Instead, nobody even bothered to offer, so now he’s stuck with either taking the Browns’ offer or signing the tag and risking future years while being overpaid for one, which isn’t a bad deal for him if he can stay healthy. He’ll have another year to feel out the Browns’ direction, then be a hero for signing on to stick with them next year, or he can leave for greener pastures if it’s another disaster.

  • RGB

    Jacksonville?
    That’s all you got?

    JACKSONVILLE?

    http://kentuckypress.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/jackn.gif

  • BenRM

    Can you agree with it 99%? Because it seems to pretty clearly be the case based on everything that has been said and the fact that Mack is waiting until the last possible minute to sign the Browns deal.

  • Byron Mason

    It looks like a smart move, and I don’t understand any angst on Mack’s part. If a better offer is out there, he’s free to go get it and see if the Browns will match (which I certainly believe they will). And if it isn’t, the Browns don’t end up overpaying for his services.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Disagree. I think he just wants more money on top of it.

  • dimoko

    Hopefully with this pile of money, and no joe banner, he might be convinced to stick around.

  • saggy

    is it really clearly the case? Can you point me to a link or a quote where Alex Mack says he doesn’t want to play here anymore?

  • Harv 21

    I have no prob with how this elite player has handled this. Only the most thumb-sucking insecure fan will reflexively consider Mack’s rejection of the Berea chaos – 4 head coaches in his 5 year career, learning new systems every year, never winning more than 5 games, the firing of your only constant, your position coach – with a personal diss. Every player has a finite number of NFL snaps in his body, and if Mack’s talent, hard work and toughness has put him in a position to seek greener pastures or paychecks, good for him. He’s laid out for every cockamamie HC and system since he’s been drafted and he’s earned the right sniff around without all the “we don’t wantcha if you don’t want us” whining. It’s not personal, folks, his achilles could snap tomorrow like Jamir Miller’s and he’d be done without a tear shed by any of us.

    What I don’t get is Ray Farmer using the transition tag instead of the franchise tag, which would have cost about another million this year. No team would have offered a contract we couldn’t match PLUS two first rounders for a center. Have a feeling when it’s all said and done this little contract dance will cost the Browns a whole lot more than that one million.

  • Stephen Waddell

    This is all petty to blame Mack and his agent. You can’t blame Mack for the Browns mismanagement of this.

    http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2013/07/cleveland_browns_and_nfl_pm_li.html

    The Browns tried (repeatedly) to “low ball” him, offering below market rate deals. Here’s the Browns negotiating position as in the article below:”The Browns would like to sign him to a long-term deal but need to see consistently great production. If Mack can prove he deserves that new contract, the line could be one of the better outfits in the league. ”

    The Browns told Mack he’s “not going to get Kalil money ($7.3 M/year), so Mack said, “Ok, let’s see what’s out there”. Then the Browns hit him with the Transition Tag, an owner’s tool for them to hold all the cards and make it difficult for Mack to get a true Unrestricted Free Agent long term deal from any other team. Don’t blame Mack for the “$10 Millon Offer”. It’s the LEAST the Browns could offer under the terms of the CBA. Mack benefits from Centers being the the OL category and he gets the average of the Top 10 OL.

    The Browns are stil trying to get “the home town discount” which usually only goes to winning teams, stable franchises, desirable locations, etc.. none of which the Browns offer.

    Browns fans are being mainuplated by the Browns managment and media that Mack and his agent are the “bad guys”. The Bad Guys are the Brown front office for not signing him to an extension last year when he deserved one, as per Joe Thomas in the article below:

    http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2013/12/cleveland_browns_joe_thomas_on.html

  • bossman09

    Manny, Thome, CC, Lee, Masterson et al. Everyone wants to play here as long as they are paid a premium for their position. I’m sure Thomas “wanted to play here” when the Browns gave him a huge contract. There is this notion that if you “want to play here” you will take whatever is given to you and that happens once every 20,000 contracts. I personally was given a similar situation and moved because my family “wanted to stay here” but couldn’t be homeless and broke. And don’t for a second think that doesn’t apply to millionaire athletes too. That’s like saying “I’m OK with the 6million dollar lottery even though I could have won the 25 million dollar lottery because they both make me a millionaire.” Mack “wants to stay” which means he wants Cleveland to give him the contract he wants – and also be a better program.

  • tim

    The problem with the deal is he does not have to do anything until July. What if he sits out until then? he will miss learning a new system and be behind. What if another team loses their center and goes hard after him? It would be nice to know before the draft anyway.

  • saggy

    I agree with that assessment. I have always wondered why they just didn’t lay out the extra mil or two. They have it to burn this season. It would have made the kid feel happy, wanted, and as if he “won” the negotiation.

  • eldaveablo

    I think Mack wants out of Cleveland about as much as the Browns wanted to transition tag him. I think he likes a lot about Cleveland, but it’s far from an ideal option for him.

    The Browns are exercising their rights by transitioning him. They keep control, but pay a high price.

    Mack is also exercising his rights (that have been limited by the Browns). He’s checking interest around the league and keeping his options open while keeping in mind if he does next to nothing, he will be the highest paid center in the league. Why not stretch it out, learn his worth, maybe even miss some of those off-season workouts that the guys hate?

    No doubt we would all feel better if he signed the deal, or even a multi-year extension. I’m just trying to remember 2 things: just because you are exercising your rights doesn’t mean you are guilty, and you can always recognize a good compromise when neither side is happy. I’m pretty sure this all makes sense, and I’m not going to freak out about anything until things change for the worst.
    Go Browns.

  • Jason Hurley

    Mack always knew that the Browns could franchise him or apply the transition tag, so I’m not sure what mentioning that brings to your argument. If anything, it makes Mack and his agent look silly for not seeing it coming. Yes, the Browns mismanaged this situation last year when the should have extended Mack, but trying to sign him for as little as possible isn’t unexpected for any franchise (save Washington or Oakland, probably). The new management of the Browns are playing this situation really well, in my opinion, and Mack’s agent didn’t help fan perception with his poison pill comment. So, it’s not so much the Browns painting Mack as a “bad guy,” when I think he’s done enough of that himself.

  • Jason Hurley

    If Mack acts unprofessionally, other franchises will notice. He’s a pro and I think he’ll be fine picking up a new scheme. And if another team comes through with a contract that is so unattractive the Browns don’t want to match it? Good luck in all your future endeavors, Mr. Mack.

  • saggy

    i don’t think the first article you quote makes any difference whatsoever. It was written before the 2013 season, and it makes use of stats like this one: Alex Mack committed 9-times more penalties in 2012 than he did in 2011. It also talks about the struggles of the running game, which are certainly partially on his shoulders.

    The article also says “Mack will be motivated to play better this season, a contract year,” and he did. But at the time of it’s publication, the article was spot-on in being critical of his 2012.

  • saggy

    Mack is a pro. and a pro-bowler. He would be unwise to completely keep himself in the dark about the new scheme. That being said, it is probably going to help his body heal to not have to do OTA’s and anything else that may be on the docket.

  • eldaveablo

    Mack wanted to test the FA waters. Maybe transition tagging him was the bare minimum amount of goodwill the Browns could provide, while still staking their claim? If there is one clear thing Mack & his agent have said, it’s that they wanted to test FA. Transition tag allows him to do that to a limited degree, while still maintaining control. Why not save a million on top of that?

    Then again, I’m ridiculously optimistic :)

  • eldaveablo

    Mack is a bright guy and a Pro’s Pro, and I don’t think he’ll have any problems picking up the new system. Any dude that had appendicitis during the season and didn’t miss a snap deserves some slack in regards to missing an offseason workout.

  • Brian D

    The Browns were gambling on the likely possibility that no team was going to offer him more than the Browns were willing to match, so why let Mack take the Franchise tag and make an extra $1.6 million?

  • Stephen Waddell

    Wow – an article that is critical of his 2012 is your reason to not give him a market value long term deal in the Summer of 2013? They guy made the Pro Bowl previous to 2013, made Alternate another year, never missed a snap, was a quality locker room guy, never a problem, never complained to the press, “played by the rules” to deserve a long term extension, but the Browns didn’t offer a fair market value long term deal, so Mack said,
    “Ok, lets’ see what’s out there” and now he has one. The Jags are apparently offering 4 years $22 Million with $20 Million guaranteed. That’s about fair market value for a 2 Time Pro Bowl Center in the prime of his carerr, age 28.
    Bill Polian talked about Free agents on ESPN. You pay for “talent, durability, and character”. Mack has all of those qualities.

  • saggy

    I’m not trying to spend Haslam’s money but $1.6mil this season could have been the insurance policy to get Mack to sign long-term without a hitch. Maybe even for a discount. You can be sure, now, that it won’t be that easy.

  • saggy

    It’s a negotiation. If i can tell the player that he did something poorly I am going to point it out because i want to save that money. Do you think it’s a good idea to head into a negotiation by telling the player how great he is and that he deserves to be the highest paid player in the league?

    you have to keep some semblance of leverage.

  • CB Everett

    My hunch all along has been that Mack wants out (and has wanted out for years). The Browns transition tagged him in the hopes that someone would sign him to an offer where we could swoop in and match. Otherwise, he’s just going to keep rejecting our offers. If you franchise him, you scare away all suitors. Basically the transition tag is our only way of trying to keep him long term.

  • Stephen Waddell

    Right, the Browns played their cards the way they felt was best for them and Mack did the same. Mack was Pro Bowler, deserved a Kalil type long term contract, but the Browns, for whatever reason, weren’t willing to offer one. Fair enough. Mack and his agent then do what they were supposed to do – look for a long term deal at fair market value. Then the Browns hit him with the “little used Transistion tag” as a last ditch desperation move.

  • Stephen Waddell

    Not true. Mack wanted a long term extension prior to 2013, is friends with Joe Thomas, etc.. but the Browns didn’t offer a fair market value long term deal. The Browns did what they thought was best for them so Mack said “Ok, let’s see what’s out there” as he should have. The Browns are still offering below market for an extension, only “offered” $10 million because that’s what they had to do to maintain leverage. Mack only wanted what he deserved: a long term market value for a 2 Time Pro Bowl who never missed a single snap, let alone a game, in 5 years. That is worth more than the Browns are apparently willing to pay him. Ok, then, let him go.

  • The Other Tim

    “Everyone wants to play here as long as they are paid a premium for their position.”

    Ahem. (cough) The Decision. (cough)

  • Jason Hurley

    It doesn’t strike me as desperate…it strikes me as deliberate.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I was critical of Banner and company for not extending him sooner too. I will say that it’s meaningful to me that the article you link is Joe Banner’s responsibility and the personal visit to Mack’s home was Farmer, Pettine, etc after Banner was fired.

  • posaunepar

    Best summary I’ve seen on Mack’s situation from a reader on any forum. Mack’s rights to free agency were won at the bargaining table and earned by him for finishing his rookie contract at the top of his game. In exchange, the players allowed the owners a limited right to inhibit the movement of selected players – a right that comes at a steep price. What Farmer and Mack/Demoff are doing is part of the “game” and is exactly what both labor and management had in mind when they signed the latest CBA. Both sides are handling themselves expertly and professionally. Rather than complain about Ray Farmer’s failings or Marvin Demoff’s greed, the public should pay attention and learn something.

  • scripty

    You also need two parties operating in good faith to achieve a business deal both parties can feel good about serving. While he may be perfectly within his rights about choices, talking with JAX looks bad in the spirit of his talks with CLE.

    Seems a lot like Carlos Boozer to me.

  • Dave Mitri

    Mack is a classic example of one’s agent driving the narrative. Nowhere have I seen Alex Mack state into a camera that he wants out of Cleveland. Sure he’s disappointed he got the transition tag and couldn’t truly test free agency, but why sign anything until the last minute? 10 million for one season isn’t half bad.

  • Browns pay again

    I wish I could “scrounge a drink” like Alex Mack. Maybe this column was written too early. King was right when he said that this tag was a bad idea by the browns.