In extending an offer sheet to center Alex Mack, the Jaguars apparently relied on Mack’s supposedly intense desire to leave Cleveland — and the Browns potential willingness to let him walk because of it.
Now that the offer has been matched, Mack says he never wanted to leave. Even if he created a very strong impression to others that he did.
Ultimately, Mack didn’t really want to leave. Or getting $18 million guaranteed changed his mind. Or the Browns didn’t care one way or the other.
The offer signed by Mack and matched in Cleveland pays out $18 million fully guaranteed over two years and, if not voided by the player, another $8 million fully guaranteed in year three. League insiders have now digested the terms, and it has sparked a few ideas about how a team could use a device like this in the future in a way that would deter a match.
The most obvious reaction was that the offer didn’t force the Browns to pay enough money. The Browns are guaranteed to have Mack for two years at $18 million, or for three at $26 million. Absent a long-term deal, Mack would have made $10 million in 2014 under the transition tag. If tagged again in 2015 (transition or franchise), Mack would have made $22 million over two years. If not tagged, he would have hit the open market next year.
It’s unclear what it would have taken to get the Browns to pass, but in hindsight the offer sheet made it a lot cheaper for the Browns to keep Mack for the next two years. And if Mack is telling the truth about wanting to stay in Cleveland, he won’t void the deal after two years — and they’ll keep him for three years at only $4 million more than it would have cost to keep him for two years under the tag.
The pay-as-you-go nature of the offer, which has become more prevalent as teams pay more attention to the minimum cash spending requirements of the 2011 CBA, also made it more likely that the Browns would match the offer. By using structure with much of the total compensation over the first two or three years shifted to a signing bonus payable in full within a day or two after the contract becomes official, a team with offseason cash-flow issues and/or concerns about satisfying the minimum spending requirements in future years could be less likely to match.
The best approach, despite the potential for hard feelings among teams and not-so-subtle disapproval from the league at large, would have been to park a huge roster bonus in Year Two, and for Mack to make it clear to the Browns that he would not restructure the deal to give the team cap relief come 2015. Implicit in the situation would have been a willingness by Mack to convert the roster bonus to a cap-friendly signing bonus next year.
Ultimately, the Jaguars chose a path less likely to ruffle feathers, hopeful that Mack truly wanted out of Cleveland and that the Browns would factor that desire into their assessment of the situation. If/when a similar situation arises in the future, the team that tries to lure the player away should be less willing to bank on non-financial considerations and more inclined to craft an offer that the player’s current team can’t not refuse.