Had an interesting question today from a fan of the site regarding the odds that the Browns would use the Franchise Tag on Center Alex Mack. I thought it was an interesting topic to write about since it involves a number of considerations a team must make in regards to certain positions.
When the NFL instituted the Franchise Tag provision they grouped players into a number of positions. The tag itself is more or less calculated based on the top 5 salaries at the position, but due to the way the market and the game has changed over the years it has made the system in some way obsolete for some positions.
The NFL groups all offensive lineman and linebackers as their own individual price points. For linemen there has been a growing disparity between left tackles and the interior linemen on a team. In recent years teams have pulled back on spending on the guard and center position. For linebackers the 34 defensive system has become dominant and the 34 outside linebacker overshadows inside linebackers and 43 outside linebackers. It makes the decision to use the tag on the Guard, Center, Right Tackle, 43 outside linebacker, Inside linebacker, and 34 Defensive End (who is lumped in with pass rushers and in most cases they have a different role) very difficult. Here are my annual value estimates for the top 5 players at various positions on the offensive line:
As you can see this is a pretty major disparity. The Franchise tag in 2013 for an offensive lineman is $9.828 million. The largest salary cap hit for a Center in 2013 was $9.117 for Nick Mangold and the second highest just $6.5 million. So using a tag on a Center requires a heavy one year investment at a position that normally does not receive that type of salary.
The secondary concern is while most player dislike the tag because it offers no long term job security, it can be different for some of these other positions. If Mack was to be tagged and to run out and sign his tender the Browns are now locked in for the year at close to $10 million a season. Even if they come to a long term agreement following that, the $10 million figure will need to be worked into the contract.
I think many people consider Mack to be the best Center in the NFL. Financially that distinction belongs to Ryan Kalil at nearly $8.2 million a year, but the way the league has pulled back since then probably puts his pricetag closer to $7 million a year, which would be nearly $500,000 more a season than Max Unger. Once that tender is in play you are now going from a 4 year $28 million dollar contract to a 5 year $38 million dollar contract. That’s a major difference.
So financially there are many considerations that have to be taken both from a short and a long term perspective when using the tag on one of these secondary positions whose tag value is tied to a prime salaried position.
So I would think most teams would not consider using a tag on a Center. The Browns could be of a completely different mindset however. The team has over $20 million in cap room to carry over to 2014 and they will likely hit 2014 with nearly $45 million in salary cap space. For this particular team they may not see the harm in overpaying for a position.
They could also consider the rarely used Transition tag allowing Mack to “get what he is worth” and then deciding if they want to match the offer. This tag will cost $1 million less than the Franchise tag and for the Browns no team could frontload a contract offer that they could not match since the Browns salary cap space is so high. The risk you run with that is losing a 3rd round max compensatory pick, but with so much money in cap space and holes to fill getting a compensatory pick could prove difficult. I’d personally prefer that option, but I guess we’ll need to wait and see what the Browns consider the optimal decision for Mack.