As expected by many this offseason, Alex Mack—the Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl center—has decided to opt out of the final three years of his contract and test free agency, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. This move voids the final three years of a five-year, $42 million offer sheet he signed back in 2014 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which the Browns then matched to keep him in Cleveland.
Browns C Alex Mack is voiding the 3 years remaining on his contract and is set to become a free agent, per source. One more free agent OL.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 2, 2016
At the time, the move by Ray Farmer to place the transition tag on Mack seemed like a shrewd one to keep his star with the team. Looking back a few years later, the move could have left a bad taste in the mouth of Mack—as he can now explore his options as an unrestricted free agent in the 2016 class with the freedom to actually leave Cleveland, if he chooses to.
Alex Mack had 3 years, $24M remaining on deal and could once again become NFL’s highest paid C. Return to Cleveland still “very possible.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 2, 2016
However, leaving Cleveland isn’t guaranteed right now—no matter how much the national media will try to frame it this way. Back in January, Mack did not rule out a return to the Browns. In fact, it sounds like he is impressed with the moves they have made to try and get this team headed in the right direction this offseason, according to the following quote from the Canton Repository’s Steve Doerschk.
“It was good to leave the season, take some time off and let that all shake out,” Mack said Thursday. “Really happy they got everything handled early and they found their guy. They’re getting a staff together quickly. It’s going in the right direction. I think they’ve got good things going in the right places.”
Since being selected by the Browns with the No. 21 overall pick in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Mack has been a three-time Pro Bowler and was named to the All-Pro Second Team one time (2013). Year in and year out, he is lauded by analysts and his teammates for being one of, if not the best centers in the game—so, this could simply be a power play to get paid as the best center in the game.
Mack is currently 30-years old and will be turning 31 during the 2016. Under the contract he just voided he was paid $18 million total for 2014 and 2015, but according to Spotrac he was due to make $8 million in base salary in 2016, $6 million in base salary in 2017 with a $2 million roster bonus and $6 million in 2018 with a $2 million roster bonus. Mack would have then hit free agency in 2019 at the age of 33, turning 34 in the season.
Add in the fact that Mack just came back from a serious leg injury suffered in 2014, and you can easily see why he voided his contract. With a full season under his belt in 2015 with no setbacks, Mack is likely going to lock up a long-term term deal with a large guaranteed amount up front to make sure he is covered well into his mid-30s.
What will that amount be? Now that’s a good question.
Mack’s previous contract gave him $18 million guaranteed over the first two seasons, with his 2016 contract of $8 million becoming fully guaranteed in early April of this year. $26 million guaranteed in the first three years of a contract is pretty good by league standards for a center, especially if you look at the contracts of Nick Mangold (New York Jets) and Ryan Kalil (Carolina Panthers)—two players who are considered among the top at the position in the league.
Starting with Kalil when he signed his new contract back in August of 2011, he received $28 million in guaranteed money according to reports. In the first three years of his deal, Kalil was slated to make $30.75 million. For Mangold, his deal was for a total of $54.075 million over the course of seven years, though he received $22.5 million in “guarantees against injury,” with just the $4 million signing bonus being fully guaranteed. Mangold was able to make $25 million over his first three years.
As you can see by looking at those two contracts which were signed in 2010 and 2011, Mack’s contract was being paid similar to other top players at his position in the league—but they received their contracts a few years before him. With salary cap growth over the past few seasons, Mack is likely looking to be paid accordingly with the growth in cap instead of receiving the same deal players did five to six years ago.
Taking a guess at what Mack is seeking without truly knowing, it would make sense if he was seeking a six-year deal worth over $65 million and upwards of $35 million in guaranteed money. Seeing as his previous contract paid him an average of $8.4 million per year ($42 million for five years), a pay raise of $2.4 million per season ($10.8 million average) with around $9-10 million more in guarantees seems about right.
Obviously the market will truly set the value, but the Cleveland Browns will have to make a major decision in regard to Mack’s long-term value at those numbers. Though the team has plenty of money to work with now, they have a number of free agents like Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin and Tashaun Gipson hitting the open market in a few days as well. And signing Mack to that kind of money could mean the end of two of those player’s careers in Cleveland.