Alex Mack's contract is a big win for the Cleveland Browns (insert "thank Jacksonville" crack here).

That's the word from an NFL Insider familiar with the workings of NFL contracts, a wise individual with no agenda who noticed Wednesday's post on Mack's contract that detailed the Browns can get out of the deal after three years, which the insider said is one year too late.

“The Browns can let him go after two years if they want,” said wise individual said. “There's nothing stopping them.”

[+] EnlargeAlex Mack
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsCenter Alex Mack will make $18 million guaranteed in the first two years of his new deal.
Why would the Browns do that? They wouldn't if Mack is healthy and playing well and they can afford him. But if he's slipped at all and the team's cap situation is tighter, Mack would be 30 and he'd have given the Browns seven good years.

At that point, the wise and unbiased individual said, it may be a good time to force a pay cut or cut ties.

Mack played his first five years on a rookie deal that paid him a reported $14.6 million, or an average of $2.92 million. The first two years of this new deal will pay him $10 million and $8 million guaranteed, which the wise individual said is way too high for a center.

But it means Mack will make $4.6 million per year for seven years, which the wise individual described as good for a center from a team standpoint.

Especially a Pro Bowl center.

Mack does have an injury protection guarantee for the third year, meaning if he's hurt in the second year and can't pass a physical for 2016 he is paid the $8 million.

But Mack has been healthy, so when the third year of the deal rolls around it may well come down to another negotiation. Mack may wish to stay in Cleveland, the Browns may wish to give him a pay cut. Mack may balk, or he may feel so good about the team at that point he may go along. The flip side is true as well; Mack may be playing so well the Browns may accept another year at $8 million. And Mack himself can void the final three years if he chooses to do so.

Bottom line: There will be another negotiation after the 2015 season.

The decision becomes the team's completely in the final two years, with roster bonuses of $2 million prior to 2017 and '18.

The Browns assured themselves of keeping Mack until he's 30, and Mack will become a wealthy young man.

But, as this insider said, it's a clear win for the Browns.
The three top quarterbacks are all on the board for the Cleveland Browns when they make their first first-round selection in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s Jr. Mock Draft 4.0 Insider.

It’s no surprise Kiper has the Browns taking one at that spot. Everyone and their cousin seems to believe the Browns absolutely have to have a quarterback with the No. 4 pick.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Kevin CostnerDale Robinette/Summit EntertainmentIn portraying the Cleveland Browns' general manager, Kevin Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr. is obsessed with pleasing the fans above all.
Fair warning: Spoiler alert.

The most cutting reviews of "Draft Day" suggested it was nothing more than a big-screen NFL infomercial, a modern-day NFL Films-like effort to glorify and dramatize what is now a $10 billion industry. That interpretation piqued my interest in ways that a movie about draft trades and team building did not.

So as I plunked down my $5.50 this week -- no free screenings for this hack -- I wanted to know: How does the NFL see itself? Or at least, what would the NFL look like if it could leverage its own portrayal?

After all, the NFL received a rights fee and a percentage of revenues for allowing its logos and team names to be used in the film, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell. It also exerted editorial control in at least one instance: Star Kevin Costner told reporters that the league nixed a scene in which angry fans hung a team official in effigy.

The league didn't write, direct or produce the film. In fact, director Ivan Reitman is the same guy who brought us "Animal House." Still, the NFL's cooperation and tacit approval was vital to the extent of the realism that its logos, access and cameos provided. The chief defender of the NFL shield, commissioner Roger Goodell, appears frequently.

Now then: What does an NFL-endorsed movie show us? Basically, a general manager who wants to please fans and players who aren't the character risks they might otherwise seem.

Costner’s Sonny Weaver Jr., the Browns’ fictitious general manager, wants nothing more than for the team to have a great draft because, as we hear a radio host intone, sports are all Cleveland has. Weaver’s goal is to lift up the city and its people with draft excitement. Any and all distractions must be set aside. Making good with his secret pregnant girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) must wait. Sorry. Spreading his father’s ashes must go on without him.

There is nothing subtle about the intent and motivation of high-ranking team officials in this movie. The fictitious Seattle Seahawks general manager, Tom Michaels (played by Patrick St. Esprit), is shaken when he sees fans protesting a trade outside his office window. Weaver leverages the presumed fear of fan rejection -- and the glory of their appreciation -- in several negotiations. Browns owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) is driven mostly by the adoration received in making a draft splash; ensuing profits are presumed but go unmentioned.

The rousing final scene of the movie, in fact, is set at the Browns' draft party. Molina, Weaver and the Browns' coach (Denis Leary's coach Penn) appear on stage with the team's top two draft picks. There is no greater reward, we sense, than making your fans happy.

None of the players in "Draft Day" are angels, of course, but the two selected by the Browns are overtly exonerated by circumstances. The malfeasance, we're shown, was not their fault.

One player's reputation as a hothead is debunked upon further review of game tape. At first glance, he appears to have thrown a ball into the stands, was subsequently penalized, and then ejected for bumping an official during a protest. We soon learn he had, in fact, simply handed the ball to his dying sister, excusing his subsequent tantrum, in Weaver's eyes. We then understand why this player spends draft morning driving his nephews to gymnastics practice.

The second player -- a running back portrayed by the Houston Texans' Arian Foster -- blurts in one of his first lines that he is not a gang member. He acknowledges he was involved in a violent fight, but we are strongly led to believe he didn't start it and that his hospitalized antagonist was an adult who should have known what he was getting into.

Meanwhile, the Browns pass on drafting a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback largely because he is too slick and his teammates don't appear to like him. Instead, they stick with an incumbent who has worked hard to improve his strength during the offseason and who is so passionate about winning that he trashes Weaver's office upon hearing rumors he might be replaced.

And that, we're told, is what the draft and playing football are all about. It's about team and sacrifice and heart and the whole being more important than the parts. It's why one of the great evils of "Draft Day" is trading away future draft choices. One player can't be better than three. (It's odd to hear this addressed most frequently by Leary's character, given how rarely NFL coaches worry about the state of the team two or three years hence.)

I can only presume this underlying theme explains why the impropriety of Weaver impregnating his salary-cap manager (Garner) is never addressed. They're both on the same team, right? They worked together to have a great draft, didn't they? What's the problem? (Fortunately, she tells Weaver repeatedly that she is not upset with his inattention.)

I'm no film critic, so this post isn't meant to tell you whether "Draft Day" was good or bad, or whether you should see it or not. I watched the movie through the lens of product portrayal. The movie tells us that the NFL draft is all about making fans happy, with players who aren't as bad as they're being made out to be and with a team concept that emphasizes the whole over the parts. (What it's not about: Medical issues of any kind. No injury histories and not a single doctor was invoked in this film.)

"Draft Day" comes at a time of great paradox in the industry. Its business has never been more prosperous, yet debate on its future remains fierce. How does that look when you can buy Hollywood influence? I can think of no better way to express the answer than through the lyrics of "Born to Rise," a little ditty featured in the closing credits that puts the best of "Rocky" training montages to shame:

What you know about standing up when the odds get stacked?
Time stands still, ain't no turning back
When everything you're worth is under attack
What you know about heart? What you know about that?
Write it off as criminal, a place to cast a stone
On and on we carry on when one is not enough.

Draft day looms ever closer. As it approaches, it seems appropriate to start your day with a tidbit or two on draftable guys -- with an eye toward those the Cleveland Browns might select. All information is courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.

Fresno State receiver Davante Adams was reliable where it mattered most: In the red zone (inside the 20). Adams led the FBS in receptions (131) and touchdowns (24), but he also led the FBS with 27 receptions and 12 TDs in the red zone. Quarterback Derek Carr completed 71.1 percent of his passes when throwing to Adams in the red zone, 57.4 when throwing to anyone else. Adams also led the FBS with 13 receiving TDs of 20 yards or more.
It has been widely and accurately reported that Alex Mack can void the final three years of his contract and become a free agent after two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

Mack
But the Browns also can escape either of the final two years of his deal. So both sides have some leverage.

A close look shows that the Jacksonville Jaguars really gave the Browns little to consider about matching the offer. It pays Mack well for two years, but it has no signing bonus, and though Mack can leave after two years -- he'll be 30 at that point -- the team can also let him go after three and thus not pay the final two.

Mack did receive fully guaranteed salaries of $10 million and $8 million in 2014 and 2015, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System.

He then can choose to stay or become a free agent again. What does he want to see these next two years that would keep him a Brown? Wins, he said.

If he stays, the third-year salary of $8 million is also fully guaranteed, which means he’d receive $26 million guaranteed.

After that, though, it’s up to the team.

Mack is due a $2 million roster bonus in the offseason before 2016, and another $2 million before 2017.

If the Browns pay either roster bonus, they keep Mack and also pay him a $6 million salary, a relative pittance if they feel Mack’s play warrants the roster bonus. That makes his salary-cap cost in both seasons $8 million.

But if they choose not to pay the bonus, the final two years or year would be wiped out and Mack would then become a free agent.

So Mack’s deal could be five years, it could be three or four at the team’s discretion, or it could be two years at his.

Total value of the deal if he stays all five years with the Browns: $42 million.

NFL Nation Buzz: Cleveland Browns

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:00
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video
ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon discusses the team's plan with rehabbing quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Draft day looms ever closer. As it approaches, it seems appropriate to start your day with a tidbit or two each day on draftable guys -- with an eye toward those the Cleveland Browns might select. All information is courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.

The best of the draftable quarterbacks against the blitz last season was Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. He completed 70.1 percent of his 117 passes against the blitz, for an average of 11.0 yards per attempt. Teams blitzed him on 27.5 percent of his throws. Second was Zach Mettenberger of LSU (10.4 YPA), and third A.J. McCarron of Alabama (10.9 YPA). No other draftable quarterback had a yards per attempt above 10 against the blitz. When it came to being under pressure, Bridgewater again ranked highest. He completed 53.5 percent for 7.2 yards per attempt. Blake Bortles averaged 7.8 yards per pass, but he completed 50.7 percent. Derek Carr had the poorest percentage under pressure -- 30.9 percent. Johnny Manziel was at 44 percent.
Cleveland Browns fans complained the past few years as the team sat idly by while free agency raged. The Browns fiddled while free agents burned holes in owners’ pockets.

Or something like that.

Since the 2014 version of free agency began, the Browns have spent $55.8 million in guaranteed money.

That’s the highest total in the AFC North, and following the matching of Jacksonville’s offer to Alex Mack, ranks third in the league in guaranteed money spent since March 11.

Which means the Browns rank third to the Bucs and Broncos in guaranteed money, with most of it going to Mack ($18 million reported, though the number has not been confirmed), linebacker Karlos Dansby ($12 million) and safety Donte Whitner ($13 million). The Browns started free agency with a glut of cap space, and they’ve not been shy about using it.

And they’ve spend more than $50 million in guaranteed contracts without even addressing the quarterback position.

Second in the division in spending are the Baltimore Ravens at $36.3 million, though their total does not include re-signing Dennis Pitta just before free agency began. That signing brings the Ravens' guaranteed money total to $52.3 million -- still short of the Browns.

Most of Baltimore’s money went to Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe ($19 million).

Take away those two re-signings and Baltimore’s guaranteed total of $18 million is more like a team that feels good about itself.

Same for the Bengals, a team that has made the playoffs three years in a row and feels it’s close to something good. Cincinnati has spent just $7.3 million in guaranteed money, the fourth lowest total in the league.

Pittsburgh? The Steelers never go overboard in free-agent spending and this year is no different. Their total of $8.7 million is just ahead of Cincinnati.
Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, and Johnny Manziel USA Today Sports, Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are options the Cleveland Browns will consider with their top pick in May's NFL draft.
And then there was one.

The Cleveland Browns' busy offseason leaves them having addressed the possible loss of Alex Mack (he stayed) and the departures of T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson (Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby). They added a running back (Ben Tate) and they added depth at several spots, including the offensive line (Paul McQuistan), receiver (Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson), tight end (Jim Dray) and cornerback (Isaiah Trufant).

On Monday, they even added the long-lost fullback, a guy the team did not give Rob Chudzinski a year ago. Chris Pressley is coming off a missed season due to ACL surgery so he is not a lock to make the team, but if he can give anything at all it’s more than the Browns had a year ago.

All this does is set the Browns up to draft the way they want to draft, not the way they have to.

"[GM] Ray [Farmer] talked about that process of just stabilizing, leveling the ship," coach Mike Pettine told the gathered media at the NFL owners meetings.

Which basically leaves one spot to address: quarterback.

Yes, Virginia, there will be a new quarterback in Cleveland before training camp.

Probably two.

The team must add a veteran before the “voluntary” minicamp the end of the month. They can’t go into camp with only two guys, especially because Brian Hoyer will probably be limited as he comes off knee surgery. Given that the market of veterans left are the Rex Grossmans of the world, the Browns also will add a quarterback in the draft.

When is the million-dollar question.

If it’s fourth overall, the choices remain the same three: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. If it’s later, there is a bundle from which to pick.

"That's the position that needs to be addressed," Pettine said. "But we're not locked into, 'We're drafting a starter.'"

Which is good to hear.

Because if the Browns draft a guy to start and they force him in too quickly they'll be following the wash-rinse-repeat cycle that has contributed to so many problems since 1999. The challenge comes in managing the situation.

Because if the team selects a quarterback with the fourth pick, Hoyer will find out quickly what it’s really like to play for his hometown team. Assuming he starts, the first time he has a two-interception, one-touchdown game in a 23-14 loss, the clamor will start from fans and media about the guy drafted fourth.

If it’s Manziel, that clamor will be loud and ornery.

If it’s Bortles, folks might be a little more patient because the word on him is he will need a year or two.

If it’s Bridgewater, it’s anyone’s guess.

Then if the young guy plays the negativity will continue if he struggles.

This negativity has affected Browns quarterbacks since '99 – all the way back to Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. It’s unrealistic to think it didn’t, because quarterback is a confidence position. He who hesitates is lost. It may sound like an easy excuse, except it affects a player’s psyche.

The spiral is almost natural. Young guy has to learn, to grow, but because he’s learning he makes mistakes, which leads to criticism, which he says he doesn’t hear but he does. Which leads to self-doubt, which leads to tentative play, which leads to more mistakes and more questions and clamor – and soon enough, the environment to succeed is damaged, which only exacerbates the issue.

There is the Bruce Arians argument, which says a team needs to pass-protect and run the ball to help a young quarterback, but if the guy can play he can play. But Bill Walsh, the great quarterback guru and leader of the San Francisco 49ers, once talked about protecting a young quarterback from a damaging environment. He talked almost emotionally, as if the damage to the player was almost permanent.

The word he used: traumatic.

The Browns have to be aware of this, and if they’re not they need only look at their history since their return. The good thing is whoever plays will have a much fuller deck than many of his predecessors. That’s the result of the offseason work.

But the Browns have saved the most important position for last.

How they handle it not only in the next two months but also through the entire 2014 season could have as much impact on the team as the selection itself.
Center Alex Mack channeled The Turtles on Monday.

He and the Cleveland Browns are simply "happy together" now that the Browns matched Jacksonville Jaguars' five-year offer sheet to the Browns center.

"Imagine you and me ... "

Mack termed all the reports that he preferred to be in Jacksonville mere positioning.

"Business is business," he said. "All I can say is I'm happy to be here. I'm excited to play football. I'm ready to go to work."

Mack said all the usual things about the free agent experience. It was interesting. The uncertainty was wearing. He's happy how it worked out. And yes, he's happy to be the highest paid center in the league.

"I work hard," Mack said. "I'm going to continue to do that."

Mack is right about that. He is a hard worker, and a valuable member of the Browns offensive line.

And, thanks to the work of Marvin Demoff, he has a five-year contract that he can void after two years to again pursue free agency.

"It gives me a lot of power as a player, which is exciting," Mack said. "That's something that may happen or it may not happen."

Mack said when he received the transition tag -- which allowed the Browns to match any offer he received -- he was sent scurrying to Wikipedia to find out what it meant. He added that he knew when he signed with the Jaguars he could wind up there, so he had to be happy with the thought of the Browns or Jacksonville.

In the two years he will be in Cleveland, Mack said he wants one thing: "To win games."

"I think about you day and night, it's only right ... so happy together."

Browns sign FB Chris Pressley

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
1:38
PM ET

The Cleveland Browns added the position player they lacked in 2013 when they signed fullback Chris Pressley to a one-year contract on Monday.

The Browns did not have a fullback a year ago, and in Pressley they add a 249-pound player who two years ago led the way for the Bengals' running game.

Pressley hurt his knee in the 2012-13 season finale, though, and missed the majority of the 2013-14 season.

The Browns had one or two yards to go on 97 plays in 2013, and they passed 40 times and ran 57. They converted the first down 58.8 percent of the time -- just below the league average of 60.7 percent.

Pressley gives offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan the ability to use different personnel groups, assuming he makes the team. The team already had signed Jim Dray as an extra tight end.


(Read full post)


Kevin Costner has done some great sports-related movies.

"Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham" are both classics. (“He hit the bull. Guy gets a free steak.”)

"Draft Day", which was recently released and is largely based in and shot in Cleveland, is not. Oh, it’s an occasionally fun 109 minutes, with some laughs here and there and a very cool slide-screen way of showing two people talking on the phone. It also has some great shots of the town the Browns call home, which is always a boost to Clevelanders.

But from a football standpoint, it’s illogical and implausible. A movie can be a good movie with some implausible elements if it’s held together by a good story or great writing, which "Bull Durham" has (“A player on a streak has to respect the streak”). "Field of Dreams" has the implausible reality of folks flocking to a baseball diamond in a corn field and players from the Black Sox scandal appearing to play in said corn field, but it also has a great story built around the love of baseball and the relationship between a father and son.

[+] EnlargeKevin Costner
Donald Traill/Invision/APKevin Costner plays Browns GM Sonny Weaver in "Draft Day."
The story of "Draft Day" is flimsy at best. Though it ends with a touching moment, the story simply can't carry the illogical football tale (spoiler alert), which sees Browns GM Sonny Weaver (played by Costner) start the day of the draft by trading three of his future first-round picks and then seeing the team that acquired them trade them back.

Right.

Between, there’s an owner talking to his GM at a shutdown water park, a common site for football executives to meet. (Come to think of it for the Browns ... )

The owner -- perhaps the best character in the movie, played by Frank Langella -- never takes off his sunglasses, even when he's inside.

And Costner and his front office dalliance, played by Jennifer Garner, have several meetings in a supply closet at the Browns headquarters. As if they think hiding there won't go unnoticed, except the dopey intern who knows nothing always manages to find them.

For Clevelanders, the best parts of the film are those scenes shot in Cleveland. Picking out the spots and seeing some of the inner workings of the team's facility are fun. But when a quick background shot is a highlight of the film, the film is lacking.

Thing is, Costner does a fine job as the GM. He comes across as a guy dealing with the pressures of his job and family while trying to keep the team on the right path.

But when a movie contrives its story to make a team do basic preparation for the draft on the day of the draft, it’s a bit much. If Sonny Weaver had not done his homework on the star quarterback when he had the sixth pick in the draft, he probably shouldn’t have been around to make trades on the day of the draft. Or if he'd had made a "splash" trade without being sure of the guy he traded for, well ...

The serious sports fan will notice all kinds of oddities like that, like the team allowing a player to march into the GM’s office to trash it. No player could get away with that without the cleaning crew from "Monsters Inc." taking him away for disinfecting.

Maybe this movie is made for the not-so-serious sports fan, who will find the interplay, give-and-take and banter more informative. Maybe.

Costner took batting practice with the Indians last summer while he was in Cleveland to shoot the film. He very graciously stopped to meet the media and was more than cordial, engaging and fun. But in discussing "Draft Day," he said he wouldn’t be doing a football movie, he’d be doing a love story with football around it. It was the same theme he adopted for "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham."

Except it didn’t turn out that way. This movie is primarily about football, with small elements of a love story sprinkled in. The football stuff just doesn’t add up.

On the star scale, "Draft Day" gets two.

On the when-to-view-it scale, it's definitely a "wait for Netflix" kind of film.

NFL Nation Buzz: Jaguars

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
11:53
AM ET


video

Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco discusses how missing out on Alex Mack will affect the team's draft as it is now in need of a center.
video
That was quick.

The Cleveland Browns didn’t need to think much at all about matching the offer sheet the Jacksonville Jaguars gave center Alex Mack.

They decided before the end of Friday to keep Mack with the Browns. Apparently, owner Jimmy Haslam meant it when he said the team had no intention of losing Mack. So the center will stay in Cleveland on a five-year deal, which he can void after two years, that will pay him $10 million, $8 million and $8 million the next three seasons -- all guaranteed.

Mack was either going to wake up rich in Cleveland or Jacksonville. As it turns out, he’s going to be rich with the team that drafted him.

He becomes the league’s highest-paid center, which the Browns accept. And they accept it because he’s been a good player for them for years, and because it continues a trend of keeping or adding players so the Browns can address the draft with the mindset of taking the best available player.

The Browns earned the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft by being a bad team in 2013.

They didn’t need to create more needs. They clearly believe they can swallow Mack’s cost and still extend the contracts of veterans like Joe Haden and Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. As long as that’s true, there’s no reason not to keep a player if they like him. And the Browns clearly like Mack.

A week of talk and chatter simply went in a circle and wound up where it started, with Mack as the Browns starting center in 2014.

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