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#HeyTony: Did the Browns do the right thing in giving the transition tag to Alex Mack?

Mar 08, 2014 -- 6:00pm

By Tony Grossi |



Did the Browns do the right thing in giving the transition tag to Alex Mack? That question was front and center as the offseason focus shifts to free agency. But the draft is never out of season, is it?

Hey Tony: Can C Alex Mack take a lesser offer? Say he is offered $7 million by another team and we match or even beat it. Can he still go with the other team?

-- Rick, Cleveland, OH

Hey Rick: Under the transition tag rules, Mack has until July 22 to listen to offers. If Mack signs another team’s offer, the Browns have five days to match the offer. If the Browns match the offer, Mack must return to the Browns under those terms. The Browns do not have to beat any offer – just match it, with the identical terms throughout the contract.

Hey Tony: Regarding Alex Mack: Do you know if teams can still use a “poison pill” regarding the transition tag? If you recall, years ago, the Vikings stole away Steve Hutchinson from Seattle (who had be transitioned) by saying something to the effect of if he plays 5 or more games in the state of Washington he would be paid a huge bonus, or given a big raise. This made the deal impossible for Seattle to match. If that is the case, the transition tag is worthless, and it may be a reason why it has only been used a handful of times over the past decade.

-- Charles, Chagrin Falls, OH

Hey Charles: Poison pills were eliminated in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated in 2011. There is still room, however, for teams to creatively steer a contract offer to their advantage. Thus, giving a player the transition tag – as opposed to the franchise tag – does have a risk of losing the player and receiving no draft pick compensation in return.

Hey Tony: Why did no one in the media ever mention the possibility of the Transition Tag for Mack or Ward? Did everyone forget about it?

-- Bart, Macedonia, OH

Hey Bart: Didn’t forget about it. I think it just didn’t seem a viable option. Maybe it will work out for them. I just think Mack will play one year for $10.039 million and go through free agency again next season.

Hey Tony: I assume, much like you, that Alex Mack will play out this year under the transition tag, then we'll need to go through this again next year. It seems the Browns should select a center somewhere in the draft in anticipation of that. What are your thoughts, and do you have any centers you think might be good to sit and learn for a year.

-- Bob, Philadelphia, PA

Hey Bob: There’s a chance that Mack receives a multi-year offer, signs it, and the Browns match. Then there is no need to draft a center. By the time of the draft on May 8-10, we will know more. Also, John Greco can slide over and play center, too. So I wouldn’t worry about a replacement center just yet.

Hey Tony: Really interesting takeaways during the combine, enjoyed this week's articles you posted on ESPNCleveland. Love to make the case for why Johnny Manziel is the distinguishing quaterback among this 2014 class & clearly worth the calculated risk of trading up to attain. While Bortles' size makes a lot of sense for the brutal AFC North & Bridgewater may be a safer choice, Manziel is the only one here with the swagger & ruthless attitude the Browns desperately need to turn around this franchise. If you look at this new crop of leaders like Kaepernick, Luck, Newton & even the otherwise mild Russell Wilson -- they are winners because they passionately hate the competition & refuse to ever accept defeat.  Since neither HOU, STL or JAC have implied they 'must have' Manziel, don't you agree Farmer should be liberal with his excess picks & do what it takes to bring Johnny Football to the North Coast?

-- Dan, New York, NY

Hey Dan: I agree that Manziel clearly surpasses the others in competitiveness, swagger and charisma. I am still not sure, however, whether those traits can overcome his diminutive size for him to not only win but also to survive in the NFL. I think it’s a very tough call, one that I am not prepared to make at this time.

Hey Tony: Do you see Khalil Mack as just an outside linebacker/defensive end or do you think with his speed and athleticism he could move to inside linebacker?

-- Mike, Parma Heights, OH

Hey Mike: You would not waste Mack’s explosion to the quarterback at an inside linebacker spot. Getting to the quarterback is so important that when you find an athlete capable of doing it consistently, you maximize him – not switch him to a different positon.

Hey Tony: I was reading all the draft prognostications and the speculation about our drafting a QB, since none of the QB's in the draft seem like a sure thing, why would the Browns not draft the best talent available at #4, say Watkins (a Steve Smith clone ... Carolina Steve Smith that is), then go for a guard who can get outside with 26, take Hyde or Mason if they are there at 35 then trade 71 & 73 to move up and take Aaron Murray who to me is just a good a bet as the other. He owns almost all of UGA's passing records and the SEC TD record, which is quite a feat considering all his receivers who were out in his senior year. He is mobile, but a pocket guy similar to Luck. Of course with the draft, everything is a crap shoot after the 3rd round so back to the highest player on your board available.

-- Ken, Pinehurst, NC

Hey Ken: I’m not going to argue every point you made. My overall contention is the Browns need a franchise quarterback. Aaron Murray is not that. Is Manziel or Bortles or Bridgewater? That’s for the Browns to decide. If they conclude that one of them is, then they should take him and worry about the other positions later.

Hey Tony: Just heard Rizz and Hammer freaking out about Ray Farmer.  It's obviously premature and to some extent unjustified.  As for the Ozzie comparisons, I would say this: he and Pettine are going to make some mistakes because they are new and it is a learning process. I'm sure Ozzie wasn't perfect at the beginning either. The question is going to be how fast they learn and if they can minimize those mistakes. Your thoughts?

-- Michael, Sugarloaf, PA

Hey Michael: I agree with you. Keep in mind there is no handbook for first-time coaches and GMs. Issues come across the desks of those two positions that first-timers have never confronted before. Ozzie himself confided to me that nobody knew he could do the GM job when he first started. You learn as you go, make your mistakes, take notes and evolve into the job.

Hey Tony: Does the release of Davone Bess without having to pay his salary add to the already large salary cap room of the Browns? Will the expected future release of Brandon Weeden and Greg Little further add to the amount the Browns will have to spend on free agents and draft picks, or has their expected departure already been counted?

-- Rich, Columbus, Ohio

Hey Rich: There is almost always a cap “charge” for releasing or trading a player with year(s) left on his contract. Often this comes when a player’s remaining pro-rated signing bonus is “accelerated” into a cap charge (even though that bonus already has been paid). In Bess’ case, though, he did not receive a signing bonus. Rather, his first two years of his contract (2013 and 2014) were guaranteed. Now, if the Browns are successful in voiding the guarantee for 2014 because of Bess’ behavioral problems, there would be no cap charge. If they are not successful in voiding the guarantee, he would count for $3.067 million. Let’s look at Weeden: If they keep him, he counts approximately $2.2 million on the cap. If they cut or traded Weeden, here is the problem: approximately $2.16 million of his original signing bonus would “accelerate” and count on the cap. Also, he has a guarantee of $2 million left on his final two years. So that brings that total to $4.16 million. So, obviously, that’s a higher cap charge (by $1.1 million) than if he were kept. As for Little, his cap charge in his final contract year of 2014 is approximately $1.06 million. If they released or traded him, there would be a charge of $230,000 (final prorated year of signing bonus). Thus, they would realize a net gain of $830,000 in cap space ($1.06 million minus $230,000). Add it all up: the release (or trade) of Bess ($0), Weeden (minus $4.16 million) and Little (plus $830,000) would amount to a net loss of $3.33 million in cap space. Now I have a headache.

(Ed. note: We got the math wrong in a previous version of this answer.)

Hey Tony: I always enjoy your writing and insights about the Browns. My first question is a basic one. From what I understood clubs could start negotiating on Saturday (March 8th), but could not sign free agents until the following Tuesday.  So, how were the Indianapolis Colts able to sign D'Qwell Jackson before teams were allowed to sign free agents? I think D'Qwell made a wise move, but I was just surprised in the timing of his signing. I imagine many players would be eager to get out of Cleveland these days. A year ago Browns fans (and from what I read the team) was excited about Chud and coaching staff. We seemed to have a direction for the first time. Now, it appears there is just a fear of dread of "here we go again into mediocrity". Am I wrong? Do you sense any excitement among the players about the new coaching staff and GM at this point?

-- Erol, Stony Brook, NY

Hey Erol: Players who are released -- rather than those whose contracts run out – are not governed by the rules of free agency and are free to sign with another team at any time. I think Jackson is another case of a player just breaking down by all the losing. He never gave up, but the very thought of playing with a winner for the first time was irresistible to him. I think the Browns have to be very cognizant that this feeling can infect other players who have seen nothing but losing seasons (Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, et al.). As for any excitement about the new changes: I believe the players’ heads are still spinning over the events of the past two months.

Hey Tony: Paul Kruger plays the run well, but is mediocre on pass rushing. Would he be a fit as an ILB?

-- David, Joelton, TN

Hey David: No. Too big, too slow, not a position he has ever played.

Hey Tony: A lot is being made of Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine being a rookie GM and Coach combination. I seem to recall that Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff in Atlanta were a rookie GM and Coach combination and that seemed to work out pretty good. (I believe that they drafted Matt Ryan and made the playoffs their first year.) Maybe all these doomsday people will see that if it is the right combination that it can work out.

-- Hal, Cincinnati, OH

Hey Hal: I’m not ruling it out. It’s just that we have seen rookie combinations fail so many times before – Dwight Clark and Chris Palmer, Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel, Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski).

Hey Tony: My question is simple, Tony. Do you believe that when someone buys a sports franchise do they also purchase the tradition from decades past? I say NO WAY! OUR Browns have always taken pride in our simplistic yet awesome uniforms. Our classic look has always been above the "latest trend". Haslam surely understands this philosophy. Look no further than his beloved Vols. I doubt VERY seriously he'd be happy if some "yankee" came in and changed that look up.  This irks me to no end. The NFL has already allowed for teams to wear an alternate uniform twice a year. He can have his way those weeks but for the other 14 he needs to keep his hands off something that isn't his and can't be bought, TRADITION!!!!!!

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: When you pay $1.05 billion for a franchise, the purchase includes the tradition and brand of that franchise. That’s partly what drives up the price. I happen to think the Browns’ franchise is so stale, it definitely needs a makeover on the uniform issue. I trust that Haslam will be sensitive to all the issues of Browns tradition. The plain uni’s can always be dusted off as “throwback uniforms.” Right now, the Browns don’t have a throwback because they have only minimally changed their look over the decades.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hastage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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