On Saturday, the news broke that the Jacksonville Jaguars are the first team looking to make a play at Cleveland Browns C Alex Mack, who the team used the transition tag on. Despite the fact that the Jaguars have a decent amount of cap space, I made the case for why I'm not concerned: quite simply, if Mack signs an offer sheet with a team, the Browns would have ~$41 million in cap space to retain Mack on a front-loaded deal and would still have plenty of money to extend other core players like CB Joe Haden.
Some people have wondered why the Browns didn't just use the franchise tag on Mack, but the transition tag is like bait: the Browns are quietly begging another team to sign Mack to an offer sheet, because if Mack doesn't prefer to stay in Cleveland long-term, this would be a way to get around that. It would be the opposite strategy that the Bengals implemented with WR Andrew Hawkins: they gave Hawkins a low-ball tender, hoping nobody else would sign him.
Now, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk is adding to the speculation that the Browns used the transition tag as bait. PFT cited several quotes from a league source who "had knowledge of Mack's circumstances and the Browns' interest."
It’s "nuts," the source said, adding that the Browns would match an offer from the Jaguars paying out $22 million over three years "in a second." As the source explained it, $22 million over three years would be the equivalent of the Browns giving Mack a total of $12 million guaranteed for 2015 and 2016, since they’re already on the hook for $10 million guaranteed in 2014 via the transition tag. The source added that Mack would be an "idiot" to sign an offer sheet that guaranteed $22 million over three years, and that his better bet would be to sign the transition tender, collect $10 million this year, and hit the open market next year.
I couldn't have explained it better myself. Florio's source said that the Browns are just waiting for a team to sign Mack, and that's presumably another reason why they've kept so much cap space open:
"The Browns will match almost anything, that’s why [the Browns didn't use the] franchise tag," the source said. "They hope some dumb team can sign him, they match and have him long term. . . . The only way to keep him long term is match someone else’s deal."
From the get-go, I have said on Dawgs By Nature that Mack's agent has to be aware of this, and that if Mack truly wants out of Cleveland, he will not sign anything except the $10.039 million tender that the Browns offered to him. The risk of that, of course, is that there is no long-term security should Mack suffer a significant injury during the 2014 season.