George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Focusing On The Center

Alex Mack is young, gifted and ... available? With cash-rich teams ready to spend when free agency begins today, the Browns could be at risk of losing their transition-tagged leader with no compensation. Plus, readers send in their mail

Suppose, at the dawn of free agency today at 4 p.m. ET, you could buy a 28-year-old player, injury-free and a solid leader. All analysts would say this guy is a top-five player at his position, with seven or eight prime seasons ahead. Suppose he wanted to leave his current team and would structure a contract to make that happen. Suppose he’d been in the NFL for 80 games and started every one of them. And suppose you could do a deal with this player for, say, about 8 percent of your salary cap over the next four or five years.

And suppose the average NFL team, as of this morning, has $21.3 million to spend under the salary cap.

It would be tempting.

That is the case of center Alex Mack.

The Browns took a chance with Mack in the days before free agency dawned, placing the little-used transition tag on him rather than the costlier (by $1 million) franchise tag. Cleveland would get first-round draft-choice compensation if Mack had been franchised and jumped to a new team. But with the transition tag, the rules are different. The Browns committed to paying Mack $10 million in 2014, the average of the 10 highest-paid offensive linemen; if another team makes Mack a contract offer, Cleveland would have five days to match. If the Browns match, they would retain Mack. If they didn’t match, they’d lose him, and would get nothing in compensation from the signing team.

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Late Monday, Mack’s agent, Marvin Demoff, told me he thinks he could write a deal that would be tough for the Browns to match. He also said he has not spoken with any teams about Mack, in compliance with the rules that say players who get transition-tagged cannot speak to any interested teams until the free-agent signing period opens.

“I’m confident we can come up with a structure that would have a reasonable likelihood to not be matched by the Browns—and would be in full compliance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement,’’ Demoff said by phone from his Los Angeles office.

(Fairness in journalism here: Demoff is also my agent. Each time I write about a client of his, I make sure you know of the potential conflict of interest, so you can make your own decision whether to believe I am writing the story fairly or not. In this case, you might believe I am writing this column strictly to help Demoff drum up business for Mack. But I feel writing about it shines a light on a player who might be, other than Jimmy Graham, the best player at his position on the market this season, and in a free-agency season in which teams have more money under the cap collectively than they have in years, I believe a column about Mack is valid.)

How will Demoff structure such an offer sheet? That’s publicly unknown right now, but clearly it has to be a structure that lives within in the rules of the CBA—and doesn’t contain a so-called fluky “poison pill’’ clause that some teams have tried to insert in contracts for tagged free-agent players in the past. The poison pill happened in 2006, when transition-tagged Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson was signed to a seven-year, $49-million deal with Minnesota, and the Vikings put in a clause saying the pact would be totally guaranteed if Hutchinson was not the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team. At the time, Walter Jones was the highest-paid Seahawks offensive lineman, so Seattle couldn’t match. The ’Hawks filed a grievance and lost Hutchinson to Minnesota. That deal led the league to forbid clauses specifically designed for the original team to be unable to match.

So if Demoff has an idea up his sleeve, one he is currently unwilling to publicize to other teams till today at 4 p.m., it’s likely he’s researched it and found it passes NFL muster. Any such offer would have to be painful or overly restrictive to Cleveland, a team that has enough money to match any deal and clearly has a ton of respect for Mack—but also a team that has had multiple chances to re-sign Mack and hasn’t gotten it done.

TALK BACK

Got a question for Peter? Send it with your name and hometown to talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in next Tuesday's mailbag.

The most likely team to pursue Mack is cash-rich Jacksonville, with a center (Brad Meester) who just retired and a gaping hole there. But I don’t believe the Jags would want to pay a center gigantic money.

We’ll see if another team steps up. If I had to guess, I’d guess no team would step up to give Mack an offer sheet. But if one does, it will be one of the great stories of a wealthy free-agency season.

Now onto your email of the week:

I DON’T GET IT. Teams go too crazy for free-agency. It’s been proven time and time again that the way to build a team is through the draft. So why do we get sucked in every year around this time?

—Chad, Nashville

Great question. I am almost on your side on this, but then I see a team like Seattle, and how much the Seahawks helped themselves with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett last year. I think you’re right—the best thing is to draft and develop your own. But there’s no one single way to build a champion. Free agency helps, when you pay players what they’re worth.

THE RELATIVE WORTH OF CORNERBACKS. With defensive backs being paid better than wide receivers, do you expect to see a decline in talented offensive players coming from high school into college, and switching to a higher paying defensive role? The next Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant may play defensive back. I think the current pay structure will affect the quality of the game far more then people realize. And more shutdown cornerbacks with less skilled wide receivers will widen the gap considerably.

—Mitch Masuk, Regina, Canada

Vontae Davis is expected to be one of the most sought-after cornerbacks in free agency. (George Bridges/Getty Images)
Vontae Davis is expected to be one of the most sought-after cornerbacks in free agency. (George Bridges/Getty Images)

Not sure your premise is true, about corners making more than wideouts. Mike Wallace got a $13 million annual average from the Dolphins last year, but we’ll wait and see about the final tallies this spring. You are right in this way: Cornerbacks are becoming valued significantly more this year. I don’t know if it will set a trend, because a player the size of Calvin Johnson is not going to be able to play corner or safety as nimbly as lighter players. But we’ll see how it plays out.

HE THINKS TIGHT ENDS ARE OVERPAID. Maybe it is me and I do not understand. I really think it is the media. When did tight end become such a vital area that required you to pay millions of dollars for one? When was the last time a team won a Super Bowl with these so-called “best in the game tight ends?” You write about the era of the tight end and drafting tight ends high in the first round. Who was tight end for Seattle, Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis, New Orleans [when those teams won Super Bowls]? Functional but not great. What has New Orleans won with Jimmy Graham, Atlanta with Tony Gonzalez, New England with Rob Gronkowski?

—D. Waters

Superb question. Thanks for writing it. I think tight end is a valuable position, but there’s a reason why I’d never pay a tight end $10-11 million per plus two first-round picks: You can find valuable role-playing tight ends to help you win in the third round for a fraction of that. Dennis Pitta, Zach Miller, Jake Ballard … all contributing players on good offenses that helped teams win but didn’t dictate a victory. Now, Gronkowski is a great player and the Patriots were very close to winning a Super Bowl with him, and he’d have been the most important offensive weapon. And Pitta is a huge red-zone threat for Joe Flacco. But I agree with you: Tight end is a piece of the puzzle, not the whole thing.

THE JACKSONVILLE SEAHAWKS. What’s this with the Jags getting a lot of Seattle coaches and players? Gus Bradley’s coaching approach, scheme and even the music at practices seem like a replica of Pete Carroll. I know it’s a copycat league, but is this actually a good strategy for the struggling Jags?

—Eric

Imitation, in this case, is smart. Gus Bradley knows the Seattle players and Seattle system, so why wouldn’t he try to replicate some of it in Jacksonville? I wouldn’t be surprised if Golden Tate is next for Jacksonville, which needs a wideout. Or two.

mmqb-end-slug-square

44 comments
KadenL19
KadenL19

I do think after Seattle's defensive dominance over the last few years -- especially in their Superbowl win -- will lead teams to looking more at their secondaries as opposed to being concentrated more on their offense, specially in the passing game. 

Who knows, maybe we'll go back to times of 'ole where running games and defenses dominated the NFL. 

KitKat719
KitKat719

Alex Mack has stated repeatedly that he wants to stay in Cleveland. It isn't mentioned in this article. He says this because of one of these reasons:

1. he expects to stay in Cleveland.

2. he knows that nobody is going to offer more than Cleveland will match.

3. he likes it there.


Any way you shake it, he is likely to stay. MMQB is trying to help this guy squeeze more green out of Ray Farmer but Ray is smarter than I am and I can see through the smoke screen BS so of course he can too. This whole article is some guy doing a favor for his agent. Why do you think the agent has this writer as a client anyway? The author is a tool in more ways than one.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

also on revis thee's also the possibilty that maybe the bucs do bring him back, but at a much lower cap number, as he will get cut before weds that way they don't have to pay revis 1.5 million roster bonus, plus the draft pick the jets would get would be a 4th round pick, as it could've gone up to a 3rd if he's still on the roster, as remember some of these guys after being cut they do come back at a lower number

Otto-Gee
Otto-Gee

"shines a light on a player who might be the best player at his position."

Need batteries P.K?.... still waiting for that light to shine.  

Taken at its face value, I am wondering how your article shines light on Alex Mack?  Let's see, we learn he is 28, top 5 at his position, is relatively healthy,  shares the same agent as you...

Why not discuss how he struggles to anchor when pass-blocking... that he has not produced as a run-blocker...

As someone who has direct access to his agent... why not put that journalist hat on and find out what Mack wants... a quote maybe?  Why not recognize that Mack was an academic all American at Cal-Berkley, and invite him to provide a paragraph...

No. You are right. Starbucks Journalism is so hard. Why go to all that effort to "enlighten" your readership when finding your next coffee and resting on your laurels pays the same?

Bucky182
Bucky182

D. Waters makes a valid point with his question. I do believe the TE position is valuable, just not at the $10+ million per year price tag some are looking for. He also forgot to mention Green Bay who happened to win the Super Bowl with Andrew Quarless, Donald Lee, and Tom Crabtree as TEs. I mean, the Saints with Jimmy Graham are a good team that can definitely win games but I have a hard time believing the Saints without Jimmy Graham will suddenly fall off the face of the earth.

RosaNosabe
RosaNosabe

Jacksonville Seahawks? Hmmm. Maybe seagulls! LOL. I visited Jax Beach a couple of years ago and they do have alot of seagulls. Nice beach. Seriously, I actually love how the Jags are following the Seattle blueprint. The Hawks are a disater when Carroll took over. If Bradley makes the defense to an elite level and they get lucky to get a QB of at least the level of Wilson (not elite yet but above average) then who knows? I see them being a real contender in 2-3 years.

AndrewMatlack
AndrewMatlack

If he wants out so bad let him go. This team needs built on people who want to be here.

Krivka
Krivka

The Browns put the Franchise tag on him as a sign of respect for Mack. They thought they could sign him. I think any deal Demoff can structure will have to include a player or a draft pick for the Browns to allow him to sign.

AF Whigs
AF Whigs

The Browns have the cap room - re-sign Mack!  Why are they messing around with this?  Unless the guy's told them he wants out no matter what, they need to get the deal done.

TeholBeddict
TeholBeddict

Peter, you mentioned Zach Miller being a fraction of the cost of these big name tight ends but he cleared 10 million this year and was paid more than any other Seahawk. Thought that should be pointed out. 

Redskins
Redskins

I love the way the guy who writes this column ( I refuse to use his name as I find it offensive) throws out his opinions on free agency and salaries and position importance as if he has ever done anything in football other than spout his opinion.

Odin's Goat
Odin's Goat

@tonybot3 Except that he never comes back and says "I was right about (so-and-so)..."  He says what he thinks will happen, then give a potential alternate scenario.  Only a fool bets the farm.


Wombat
Wombat

@Otto-Gee  Slick! First delete your initial mysterious comment below, then this... PK must have really pi$$ed in your Wheaties... 

Ucla74
Ucla74

@Krivka  Except they put the Transition tag on him, which actually shows less respect: If another team makes a better offer than the Browns, Cleveland gets NO compensation. (Pretty sure Peter explained that quite lucidly, which is how I was able to restate it.)

eddie767
eddie767

@Otto-Gee  I think u r 2 smart for us. First you tell him to use the internet, then confuse him with Twitter #'s. So, who's smarter the one who wrote the Internet article or the one who doesn't know the difference between it and twitter.

PS. What was wrong in story?

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

@AF Whigs Mack probably does not want to stay in Cleveland.  He probably wants to 1. Play for the team he grew up rooting for 2.  Play for a better, more stable franchise that has a chance to win more than 6 games in a season  3. Play in a better/warmer/more exciting city  4. Play for a team without a state income tax. 

Fans all want our players to be loyal to our teams and our cities because we love it there, especially if that's where we're from but we tend to forget that most of these guys are not from here and didn't choose to come here in the first place.  They were chosen and there's no reason at all for us to think that they're super loyal and not planning to bolt as soon as they get a chance. 

In the case of Mack, his agent has given a lot of thought to how to write a contract that Cleveland won't be able to match.  That comes at the urging of his client.

ConfusionReigns
ConfusionReigns

@AF Whigs  Why?  That is the business side of the NFL.  I am thinking the Browns want Mack back but are taking a calculated risk to get him as inexpensive as possible, save a quarter mill here, a half mill there, 100 grand over there and give you more cash to sign another important player.  We'll see it how it plays out.  

Buck2185
Buck2185

@TeholBeddict You are correct in your assessment about Zach Miller. You are incorrect in pointing it out to Peter. Peter does deal with facts. He simply pulls things out of his NE arse and slaps down on paper

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Redskins  

"I love the way the guy who writes this column ( I refuse to use his name as I find it offensive)..."


It's fun to see your standard introduction to your comments along with your screen name as a way to show how Peter really bugs you. If, by chance, Peter sees your comments, I can imagine his likely response is to laugh and/or shrug his shoulders. Yet, like the proverbial moth being drawn to the flame, you continue the charade.


I guess we all have our own pet peeves. In my case, it's blogs that allow anonymous posters. I can't see many positive things that come from this practice and a whole lot of negative things, yet it doesn't stop me from reading or commenting on the posts.


We're both a little ditsy, but it doesn't hurt anything. 

VanHayhow
VanHayhow

@Redskins  Dumb post. PK has spent his adult life covering football and has done well enough that he has risen to the top of his profession. The idea that he is not qualified to comment on football is just, well, dumb.

AF Whigs
AF Whigs

@Redskins :  Well, there are tons of sports reporters whose only experience in the sports they report on is watching them.  I don't know if PK played sports in high school or college, but more experience does not automatically mean a person in a better writer.


But the bottom line is:  if you don't like PK, don't read him.  It's a very simple solution.

mullett99
mullett99

Agreed. That's why I can't stand Stephen King. Dude ain't never kilt nobody nohow but damned if he ain't always scribbling away at it.

pirate
pirate

@ConfusionReigns @AF Whigs And as PK pointed out, that kind of calculated risk can boomerang on you, as we Seahawk fans learned to our sorrow with Hutchinson.

Ryan19
Ryan19

@Redskins @AF Whigs  Good point.  Allow me to partake of this negative feedback.  You are a moron and your comments are ignorant and uninformed.    

Wombat
Wombat

@Redskins @mullett99  NO, its not... but the column is reporting and opinion not True Stories from the NFL... ease up my friend.

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