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By keeping Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns say valuable assets will stay put

Posted Apr 14, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the Browns’ quick match of the offer sheet for center Alex Mack makes a loud statement about their commitment to winning.

There was no messing around.

No will-they-or-won’t-they dance. No reason to question, for even a brief moment, whether the Cleveland Browns valued Alex Mack as much as they indicated before he had the chance to see exactly how much he would be valued elsewhere.

The Browns didn’t merely exercise their right, under the terms of the transition tag they placed on him, to match the offer sheet the Jacksonville Jaguars presented to Mack last Friday. They did so in the most definitive way possible, completing the process only hours after Mack received a reported five-year, $42-million deal from the Jaguars.

The Browns had until Wednesday to decide whether this was something they wanted to do, but there was no need to wait because they were ready and willing and more than able to get it done.

Of all of the Browns’ offseason moves to date, retaining Mack makes the loudest statement of all. And what it says is that the Browns aren’t going to allow themselves to lose a top-flight player.

In Mack’s case, it wasn’t merely about ponying up the right amount of money to prevent the Pro Bowl center from ending up in Jacksonville or anywhere else. It also was about being smart and shrewd in their approach to the entire process that began right before the March 11 free-agent signing period.

Yes, all of this could have been prevented a year ago had the Browns signed Mack to a long-term extension before the final season of the rookie contract he signed as a first-round draft pick in 2009. That was the mistake of the previous decision-makers, and so be it.

The Browns, with new general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine guiding their football operation, set out to get the matter resolved by offering to make Mack the highest-paid center in the NFL before the free-agent sweepstakes commenced. Jimmy Haslam joined the wooing party that included team president Alec Scheiner, Farmer, and Pettine on a jet that flew to California to meet with Mack and give him no reason to question the Browns’ commitment to him or to winning.

When Mack turned them down, with the hope of exploring the open market, they did something smarter than hitting him with a franchise tag that would not have allowed for offers from other clubs. They used a transition tag, which, at a little more than $10 million guaranteed for one season if no long-term agreement were reached and/or matched, would cost the Browns about $1.5 million less than a franchise tag.

But the savings was far less important than the Browns’ accurate anticipation that Mack likely would get an offer in the range of $8 million per year, the going rate for a top center. They knew they would and could match that, and not have to utilize a franchise tag when he would be on the verge of becoming a free agent again next year.

There was always a chance that the Jaguars or some other team could offer something ridiculous, in the range of, say, $15 million for the first season, but the NFL was unlikely to approve what would have been seen as a blatant “poison-pill” offer solely designed to discourage a match.

The Jaguars’ inclusion of a clause that would allow Mack, at his choosing, to become a free agent after the 2015 season wasn’t an issue for the Browns, either. By the time that happens, the Browns will have had three drafts to find a potential replacement for a player who, by then, will be approaching 31.

This was a calculated risk … and the Browns played it perfectly.

And they did it with the overriding intention of hanging onto one of their most valuable assets.

To be certain, the Browns have done a significant amount of patching and building in the last month of free-agent shopping. They filled important defensive holes and made a couple of upgrades in production and leadership by signing linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner. They plugged key offensive voids by signing running back Ben Tate, offensive guard Paul McQuistan, and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.

But the Mack situation was different.

The other moves say, “We’re going to do all we can to get better as quickly as possible.”

The Mack match says, “Not only do we want to be good, but we also want to remain good for the long haul.”

Additionally, it tells the other Pro Bowlers on the roster that they aren’t going to get away.

It tells cornerback Joe Haden that he either will agree to a long-term contract with the Browns or receive a franchise tag, which would make sense in his case because it would cost the team about $12 million or about $2 million less per year than he would likely receive as a free agent.

It tells wide receiver Josh Gordon that he, too, can count on a long-term deal or expect to be tagged. Ditto for tight end Jordan Cameron and outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard.

With Jimmy Haslam as their owner, the Browns simply are not going to allow valuable assets to run the most dreaded fly pattern of them all.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.

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