This deal came about in a roundabout fashion. The Browns started the situation off by using the transition tag on Mack, which would have paid him roughly 10 million dollars for the 2014 season if he had signed it. That 10 million dollar sum was the average of the top-10 offensive linemen in the league. You almost never see an interior offensive lineman, especially a center, get any tag of any sort, transition, franchise etc. The reason for that is that interior offensive lineman are less valuable in the NFL than offensive tackles, but offensive tackles’ salaries are still taken into account when determining the value of the tag. A 10 million dollar salary, even if only for one year, would have made Mack, by the far highest paid center in the NFL in terms of average annual salary (Ryan Kalil at 8.186 million is 2nd)
Mack never signed the transition tag, but even an unsigned transition tag gave the Browns the benefit of being able to match any contract Mack got offered on the open market. As a result, Mack draw little to no interest for most of the off-season because the Browns seemed very serious about getting Mack no matter the cost and most teams don’t have the cap space to dish out the kind of money it would have taken for the Browns, who are loaded with cap space and in desperate need of difference makers, not to match.
That was until the Jaguars came along and gave him a 5 year deal worth 42 million maximum. The Jaguars, like the Browns, have a ton of cap space and a huge need for talent, so it made sense, but ultimately the Browns still matched and now have Mack under contract long-term. The Jaguars structured the contract very interestingly and the Browns are now bound to the structure by virtue of matching it. Mack will get 26 million guaranteed over the first 3 years of the deal, unless he opts out before the 3rd year. If he does opt out, it will just be a 2-year, 18 million dollar deal and the Browns won’t have the option to tag him again if he does that. At that point, he can choose to go anywhere.
The deal is still incredibly rich for a center as the 8.4 million dollar average annual salary of the deal is still the highest in the NFL among centers and he’ll make 10 million in the first year of the deal. However, it’s not a bad deal. Mack is arguably the best center in the NFL. He’s graded out as a top-10 center in each of his 5 seasons in the NFL since being drafted in the first round by the Browns in 2009. Only Chris Myers has also been in the top-10 in centers in all 5 of those seasons. Mack is also at the peak of his career, going into his age 29 season. Also, the Browns have a ton of cap space to burn and a desperate need for talent. This deal won’t prevent the Browns from signing guys like Joe Haden, Jordan Cameron, and Josh Gordon long-term.