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Browns may have no choice but to match any offer sheet for Mack


It took nearly a month, but someone finally has brought in Browns center Alex Mack for a visit. The next question becomes whether the Jaguars will sign the veteran center to an offer sheet.

Then, if an offer is made, the question will be whether the Browns will match. But how can they not match? By choosing to use the transition tag, which gives the Browns no compensation if the Browns choose not to match, Cleveland opted to offer $10 million instead of the franchise tag. The franchise tag would have cost only another $1.6 million, and it would have given the Browns a pair of first-round picks as compensation, guaranteeing that no one would try to sign Mack away from the Browns.

What’s that, you say? No center is worth $11.6 million on a one-year deal? You’re right. But no center is worth $10 million on a one-year deal, either. By opting for the lower number, the Browns embraced the possibility that someone will try to sign Mack, a possibility that before this year would have been regarded as very slim. But after the Browns signed restricted free agent receiver Andrew Hawkins away from the Bengals and after the Falcons inked Saints safety Rafael Bush to an offer sheet, it’s now apparently fair game to pilfer players via a device that, before this year, had been used once since 2010.

The Browns also have roughly $5 million more in remaining 2014 cap space than the Jaguars, $30 million versus $25 million. Even if the Jaguars make Mack a ridiculously high offer, how can the Browns refuse to match without admitting that they’d badly misread the situation when choosing to save the $1.6 million that would have prevented the Jaguars and anyone else from making a play for Mack?

There are reports that the drop-dead figure for the Browns will be $22 million guaranteed over three years. Even then, if the Jaguars are willing to pay it, how can the Browns sell to a long-suffering fan base a refusal to do the same?

The good news/bad news for the Browns could be that the Jaguars ultimately will offer Mack a one-year deal with a commitment not to use the franchise tag in 2015 or a multi-year deal with a massive balloon payment next March, guaranteeing his release. That would make it easier to match the offer sheet, but it would guarantee that Mack would be on the open market next year.

And if the offer sheet gives Mack another million or two above what Mack was due to earn this year, that could help the Jaguars lure Mack to town next year.