Many loyal fans, including a nationwide Browns Backers Club as well as what’s left of the Dawg Pound, scratch their heads year after agonizing year, wondering when their beloved football team will turn things around. Yesterday, the Browns matched the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ offer sheet to sign Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million deal that includes $26 million guaranteed, vastly overpaying for the Pro Bowl center.
Since Mack was drafted No. 21 overall in 2009, the Browns have won only 23 games and are on their fourth head coach in six seasons, so it’s hard to blame him for testing the free agency waters. Fortunately for the Browns, they had the cap space to match any offer.
With numerous question marks on both sides of the ball, many feel that Cleveland has higher priorities than center. But due to the front office’s handling of the situation, the Browns were in no position to lose one of the top-ranked centers in the NFL and pinned themselves in a corner, essentially allowing other teams to call the shots on Mack’s contract .
Bringing back an unhappy player to an organization that’s had two winning seasons over the last 15 years isn’t the most ideal situation, but was a move the Browns had to make. Losing Mack would have set the team back that much further and would have made the rest of their free agent signings this offseason much less meaningful.
Cleveland, who placed the transition tag on Mack following the 2013-14 season, originally made him a one year deal worth over $10 million. The disgruntled center, who has been frustrated with the direction of the organization, turned that offer down and opened the door for other teams.
Not surprisingly, teams weren’t exactly jumping out of the gate to make Mack the highest-paid NFL center ever; that, and the fact the Browns made it clear they would do whatever it took to keep the lineman.
The problem Browns fans are hoping to avoid now is seen all too much in today’s professional sports. Once an athlete signs a big contract like this one, their performance tends to suffer. Without naming any athletes, it’s not uncommon for a player’s game to become more conservative after deals like this are made. The athlete goes from trying to prove themselves to trying to stay healthy, and they tend not to put themselves out there as much.
Mack’s loyalty has never been an issue for Cleveland. The star hasn’t missed a start in 80 straight regular season games — that includes one while suffering from appendicitis. The question will be how he responds to signing such a lucrative deal.
In short, Mack played his cards right and became the highest-paid center in the NFL anyway. The Browns got their Pro Bowl center back and need to turn their focus now on filling other voids and not missing in the upcoming draft.