The angst was unnecessary. The worry wasted.
Center Alex Mack isn’t going anywhere. At least for the next two years.
After a month of uncertainty with Mack on the free agent market, the Browns quickly ended the drama Friday, announcing they will match the five-year, $42 million offer sheet he signed with Jacksonville earlier in the day. NFL rules give the Browns five days to match — their right after applying the $10 million transition tag before the start of free agency — but first-year general manager Ray Farmer needed only a few hours to make the final decision.
Keeping Mack was a top priority of the offseason, and the Browns accomplished it. It was a match made in heaven.
“I’m excited for both Alex and the Browns,” Farmer said in a news release. “We have talked about keeping our own players and this is a positive for us. Alex is a quality person and player that truly brings to life what playing like a Brown means.”
Mack, 28, became a free agent March 11 when the Browns were unable to work out a long-term deal despite a sales pitch led by owner Jimmy Haslam on a visit to Mack in California. They applied the transition tag in an attempt to keep him, and it paid off.
Mack’s agent, Marvin Demoff, negotiated the deal with the Jaguars, and the Browns accepted the terms, which include $18 million guaranteed in the first two years.
The contract will pay Mack $10 million in 2014 and $8 million per year for the rest of the deal. Mack can opt out after 2015 and become a free agent without restriction. The contract includes no-tag and no-trade clauses.
If Mack doesn’t void the deal after two years, he would receive another $8 million guaranteed for 2016, bringing the total guaranteed money to $26 million.
He becomes the league’s highest-paid center at an average of $8.4 million per year, surpassing Carolina’s Ryan Kalil, who averages $8.186 per year.
The Browns were prepared to pay Mack the $10 million required by the transition tag for 2014, so if Mack voids the deal after 2015, the team’s additional obligation would be “only” $8 million for 2015.
A concern since the Browns applied the transition tag was that another team would be able to structure a contract in a way that made it difficult for the Browns to accept the terms. In the end, that wasn’t an issue. The Jaguars made an offer the Browns didn’t have to refuse.
Mack was the 21st pick in the 2009 draft and hasn’t missed a snap in 4,998 offensive plays. He went to his second Pro Bowl after last season and was voted second-team All-Pro.
“The ending is positive for everyone,” Farmer said. “Keeping our young, good nucleus of players is vital for clubs and specifically the Browns, and therefore this is a good step.
“I’m excited for Alex and our football team as we continue to prepare for the 2014 season. The next step is the upcoming draft.”
Watching Mack walk away would’ve been a big blow for the new regime of Farmer and coach Mike Pettine. The Browns had built a good amount of positive momentum with the signings of linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Donte Whitner, running back Ben Tate and receivers Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson, and they didn’t want to take a step back by creating a huge hole in the middle of the offense.
“We’ve made it kind of evident how important Alex is to this team and we’re all just hoping it gets resolved soon and he’s back,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said Tuesday. “Obviously we have a new system to learn and he’s the anchor of that offensive line.”
Tate was so worried about Mack leaving before he got a chance to run behind him, he brought up the topic with Farmer.
“In that offense the center is very important, they make a lot of points, make a lot of calls,” Tate told SiriusXM Radio before the Browns announced their intention to match. “He’s very, very important. He’s the guy that fits what they want to do.
“I definitely hope we bring him back. It was one of the things I asked, ‘We can’t let this guy get away.’ Once he realizes what’s going on here, the change in this atmosphere, the change in the new regime, he’ll realize it’s not the same old same old. In the long run, he’ll realize being a Jaguar, it won’t compare to being a Brown.”