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Analysis: Browns should act quickly, match offer sheet, keep center Alex Mack


The numbers are in.

Browns free agent center Alex Mack is scheduled to sign a five-year, $42 million offer sheet today with the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to multiple reports. It would make him the highest-paid center with an average of $8.4 million a year.

The deal includes $18 million over the first two years, and then Mack can opt out. Fox Sports1’s Mike Garafolo reported if he doesn’t void the final three years, he’ll receive $8 million fully guaranteed in 2016. That’s $26 million guaranteed total.

Once the paperwork is filed with the league office, the Browns will have five days to match. That’s their right because they placed the $10 million transition tag on him before free agency started.

The Browns could take the weekend to think about it.

They shouldn’t need to. They should quickly match, welcome Mack back into the fold and continue the positive momentum of the first offseason under general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine.

It’s a lot of money to pay a center, even one who’s a two-time Pro Bowler, has never missed a snap in 4,998 offensive plays and ranks in the top five in the league at his position. But the Browns have the money — $30.8 million in salary cap space — and they have the incentive.

Owner Jimmy Haslam labeled this THE crucial offseason when he fired coach Rob Chudzinski. It only got more critical when he fired CEO Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi.

Farmer got the message loud and clear. He saw what happened to the bosses and coach after only a year on the job, so his moves in free agency have focused on winning now and ending the six-year cycle of double-digit-loss seasons.

Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby is 32 years old, strong safety Donte Whitner is 28, offensive lineman Paul McQuistan is turning 31 this month. Running back Ben Tate is 25, but his contract is for only two years. Those deals aren’t made in a five-year rebuilding plan.

There’s no way the Browns would be a better team in 2014 without Mack. They can’t find a worthy replacement, and the line would be weakened at its core. The contract numbers are palatable, so it should be a no-brainer.

When the Browns used the transition tag, it showed they were willing to pay $10 million for one season. The extra $8 million for Year 2 is a discount.

The Jaguars included the opt-out clause and the third-year guarantee in an attempt to discourage the Browns from matching. I don’t think it’ll work.

The Browns should be glad to have Mack for two years, and $18 million isn’t too steep a price. If Mack wants to leave after that — the deal prohibits the use of a franchise tag — the Browns should be better prepared to replace him. Plus, he’ll be 31 years old.

The guaranteed third year might make the Browns stop and think, but not enough to let him walk. They must operate under the assumption Mack will stay healthy and productive. If he does, the contract works.

I’ve heard a lot of people say the Browns should move on from Mack. The popular reasons are: He doesn’t want to play here, and the contract could hinder future deals with cornerback Joe Haden, receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron and outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard.

To me, those are non-factors.

I’ve been around Mack a lot in his five years with the Browns. I know I haven’t seen anyone stretch more diligently, or run from drill to drill in practice with more enthusiasm. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone work harder.

That’s not going to change because he preferred Jacksonville. Or because he got a monster contract. Or because he’s mad Chudzinski and line coach George Warhop got fired.

The Browns will need cap space to pay the aforementioned players, but there will be enough money left. That’s what happens when there aren’t many big-money veterans on the roster, and no high-priced quarterback.

Keeping Mack is the right move because it makes the Browns better right now. That should be enough for Haslam to make the decision to match. And make it quickly.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

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