By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
New Browns GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine have decided to pursue re-signing Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, according to a source familiar with their decision.
The team also is making an effort to re-sign Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward.
Mack and Ward are the marquee names of the Browns’ potential free agents. They are the top priorities because the club has a two-week window, beginning today, to decide whether to apply the franchise or transition designation to them to keep the players from leaving when the free agency signing period begins on March 11.
If the Browns can’t arrive at a new deal for Mack or Ward, they could tag either player – but not both – as their franchise player. The cost of the franchise tag is derived from the average of the top five salary cap numbers at each position.
In the case of Mack, that figure is about $11.126 million for a one-year deal because centers and guards are grouped with the more expensive position of tackle in figuring the top five cap numbers.
Ward’s franchise figure would be approximately $8.021 million.
The transition designation is rarely used. The cost is lower, derived by the average of the top 10 salary cap numbers at each position.
Teams have from now until March 3 to apply the franchise or transition tag.
While some teams may apply it today, many wait to use it as a last resort as negotiations with the player continues.
Mack, 28, has never missed an offensive snap in five seasons with the Browns since selected 21st overall in the 2009 draft by former coach Eric Mangini. He was named to the Pro Bowl after the 2013 season and was named a second team All-Pro selection. Mack also made the Pro Bowl following the 2010 season as an injury replacement.
The previous Browns regime attempted to sign Mack to a contract extension prior to the 2013 season, but the talks were suspended by both sides once the regular season began.
Ward, 27, capped off his best of four seasons with the Browns in 2013 by being named an alternate to the Pro Bowl team. He did appear in the game and also was named to the second team All-Pro squad.
Ward was active for all 16 games for only the second time in his four-year career. He had career highs in tackles and sacks and scored two touchdowns, one each on an interception and fumble return.
In the waning days of the 2013 season, both Mack and Ward expressed interest in returning to the Browns. Since then, the Browns changed coaches and general managers and ushered in a whole new philosophy in the direction of the team.
Other Browns eligible for unrestricted free agency beginning March 11 are kicker Billy Cundiff, running back Willis McGahee, guard Shawn Lauvao and offensive lineman Oniel Cousins. Linebacker Craig Robertson is an exclusive rights free agent (less than three years in the league) and can only be free if the Browns don’t tender him a contract.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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