NFL Nation: Alex Mack

BEREA, Ohio -- NFL players spend their offseason in various ways. Five Cleveland Browns joined players from around the league to wash the feet of orphans in Brazil.

In February, on a trip organized and funded by Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and Jets lineman Breno Giacomini, several players flew to Brazil to bring U.S. football to the country and shoes to an orphanage.

“It was a very humbling experience,” said Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo, a former first-round pick who made the trip. “Those kids are less fortunate than most, and they still found time to come out and smile with us. It just made the whole trip worth it.”

Barnidge and Giacomini founded American Football Without Borders with the mission “to spread American football to different corners of the globe with a humanitarian cause.”


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Two years ago, the two discussed a trip to Egypt with a friend who was Egyptian. The country’s revolution derailed those plans, so they decided to go global again and went to China. This February it was Brazil, and joining them from the Browns were safety Johnson Bademosi, center Alex Mack, tight end Jordan Cameron and Mingo. Among others on the trip were running back DeAngelo Williams of the Panthers, lineman Russell Okung and running back Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks, and receiver Golden Tate, now with Detroit.

The goal is to bring as many good elements of U.S. football as possible to the international community, as well as to help kids. AFWB hosts a clinic on every trip, then visits an orphanage. In Brazil, Barnidge partnered with the charitable group Samaritan’s Feet to bring shoes to kids who needed them.

Teaching football to the far reaches of the globe isn’t far-fetched. The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) has five federations worldwide and members in countries as varied as Nigeria, Mongolia, India and New Zealand.

“Everywhere we go they have something organized as far as playing football,” Barnidge said. “In China they had six teams, and now they’re up to 10 and they’ve been invited to play in other countries. It’s growing just in the two years since we’ve been there.”

Many of the NFL players who traveled did a short blog on the AFWB website about their experience. Cameron included a photo of a teenager in Brazil who had a tattoo of former Panthers and current Ravens receiver Steve Smith on his calf.

“Our overall goal is we want to get kids from other countries recognized by colleges here,” Barnidge said.

One of his 2013 campers in China came to Williams’ U.S. camp, where a Division III school offered him a scholarship on the spot, Barnidge said. The player turned it down to go to Stanford, but Barnidge took the recognition as a good sign.

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Language differences pose challenges, but Barnidge said that is overcome by simply showing the young players what to do.

“The camp alone was awesome,” Cameron said. “Just being able to help and teach the game that we love so much to other people was important to us.”

The orphanage, though, was an experience that will linger for a long time.

“One of the heaviest things ever,” Cameron said. “You see these kids and you almost want to adopt every single one of them. But at the same time they’re so positive and happy for us to be there.”

“They’re living in an orphanage,” Mingo said. “And they still found time to come out and visit with us and play. Amazing.”

Players spent time with the kids, kicked the soccer ball and did whatever they could. They then washed the feet of the kids before giving them shoes, courtesy of Samaritan’s Feet.

China’s orphanage had an entirely different level of experience.

“A lot of the kids had disabilities,” Barnidge said. “It’s heartbreaking. They’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s just not fair. Why does this have to happen?”

But what Barnidge also remembers is that those kids were simply happy to meet American football players.

“Seeing their face smiling, that in itself is very rewarding,” he said.

The trip does involve some vacation time; the group bonds as they spend time together in the country after the humanitarian work is complete. Barnidge and Giacomini fund AFWB entirely on their own, though they’re actively looking for a sponsor.

For Barnidge, it’s part of giving, which he considers important. He works with Ohio Guidestone (formerly the Berea Children’s Home) to host 10 kids at every game and take them on a Christmas shopping spree. He said he wants to give back to “the less fortunate kids,” which is why he decided to visit the orphanages and partner with Samaritan’s Feet.

“In the position we’re in we can touch lives just by saying hi or spending time with somebody,” Barnidge said. “I don’t think people understand that enough. Just by spending 10 minutes with someone or signing an autograph you can change somebody’s life.”

“It wasn’t until we really got there,” Mingo said, “that it all made sense.”
PITTSBURGH -- The tears that made it hard for Maurkice Pouncey to talk Thursday afternoon also cut short what should have been a celebratory news conference.

Emotion choked the Pittsburgh Steelers center, and it emanated from the day last September when a teammate crashed into his right knee and left Pouncey in the kind of pain that made him wonder if he would ever walk well enough to play football again -- or at least at a high level.

What also had to overwhelm Pouncey: Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin all attended the official announcement of the five-year contract extension he signed nine months after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
Their presence as much as the new deal that could be worth as much as $44 million, affirmed to Pouncey that he is a Steeler.

And there is a difference between that and playing for the Steelers.

“It’s true love here,” Pouncey said shortly after the Steelers concluded organized team activities. “I’ll do anything for this team and I’m ready to lead us to where we’ve got to get back to.”

The Steelers concluded that Pouncey is one of the keys to them re-establishing themselves as perennial Super Bowl contenders following consecutive 8-8 seasons.

They made a bold move with the contract that is now the most lucrative for a center in the NFL.

They also made the correct move in locking up Pouncey long-term after the Jaguars had raised the ante at the position by signing Alex Mack to a five-year, $42 million contract (the Browns later matched it to retain Mack).

Pouncey is the only center in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. His teammates respect him so much that they voted Pouncey a captain last season, not much more than a month after he had celebrated his 24th birthday. And Pouncey is the kind of player you build around on the offensive line, especially if your goal is to maximize Ben Roethlisberger's remaining seasons as a top-tier quarterback, something that Colbert has stated.

Questions have been raised about Pouncey and whether the 2010 first-round pick is prone to injury. But he had missed just three regular-season games prior to 2013.

And the injuries he suffered in the Steelers’ season opener were a result of nothing more than rotten luck, as friendly fire took Pouncey out after right guard David DeCastro whiffed on an attempted cut block.

The Steelers are obviously comfortable with Pouncey’s injury history as well as where he is from a health standpoint nine months after hurting his right knee. Pouncey’s teammates, meanwhile, were nothing short of ecstatic about his new deal.

And not because Pouncey is likely to pick up the next couple of dinner tabs.

“He worked his butt off so we’re glad to have the team commit to him like that,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “We’re more excited than he is about it.”

Just not as emotional.

“I was just telling coach (Tomlin) it seems like five years all over again, and I’m ready to start this path and help this team get back to where we need to,” said Pouncey, who turns 25 the day before the Steelers report to training camp. “This is really an awesome feeling and words can’t really say enough about it.”

Browns offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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 With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Cleveland Browns' offseason moves:

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakIt's looking like a smart move -- for now -- that the Browns hired Ray Farmer as their general manager.
Best move: Naming Ray Farmer general manager was a shocking move, but it was the right move. Farmer has brought stability, a clear vision and common sense back to the front office. His free-agent moves replaced players lost to free agency and added needed talent at running back. His draft picks were based on evaluations and not projections. His answers have been filled with common sense, logic and a humanity to appreciate. It's all still on paper. Farmer's team has yet to play a game. And the details behind the move from Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi to Farmer are still not known -- Banner and Lombardi could have been just as active as Farmer. But what is known is Farmer has brought many clear positives to the Browns.

Riskiest move: Drafting Johnny Manziel could be the greatest move Farmer ever makes. Or it could backfire. Prior to the draft, there were as many people saying to avoid Manziel as were saying to take him. The Browns played it coy, perhaps even leaking word they were more interested in Teddy Bridgewater. Manziel has supercharged interest in the team since the draft, but he still has to play and prove that he’s tall enough, competent enough and tough enough to be Johnny Football in Cleveland.

Most surprising move: Not taking a receiver in the draft went against all logic, especially because the Browns front office knew prior to the draft of Josh Gordon’s likely suspension. Without Gordon, the Browns lack a playmaker. They lack their only playmaker. The time to take a receiver would have been in the second round, but the Browns chose offensive lineman Joel Bitonio. That tells much about how the Browns feel about Bitonio, and about their approach in winning games this season.

Smartest move that wasn’t originally thought to be so smart: Giving the transition tag to Alex Mack. The initial thought was that would allow other teams to swoop in and steal the Pro Bowl center. In the end, Mack wound up getting a tepid offer from Jacksonville that the Browns quickly matched. Yes, the Browns are paying a center a ton of money, but it’s essentially a two-year deal that either side can end after 2015. At that point, the team can assess again how much it likes Mack.

Colts offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Indianapolis Colts' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeVontae Davis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Colts moved quickly in free agency to retain talented CB Vontae Davis.
Best move: The Colts couldn't let cornerback Vontae Davis walk in free agency. Not after giving up a second-round pick for him in 2012. Not when they'll likely have to beat Tom Brady and/or Peyton Manning to reach the ultimate goal of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. Davis and Greg Toler (when healthy) give the Colts a solid cornerback duo. The Colts wasted little time -- just a couple of hours into free agency -- in re-signing Davis to a four-year, $39 million deal.

Riskiest move: Center, center, center. The Colts' belief in second-year center Khaled Holmes kept them from heavily pursing another option on the free-agent market. Cleveland's Alex Mack was the best center on the market, but the Colts didn't want to pay the heavy price tag to try to get the transition-tagged player. Indianapolis signed Phil Costa only to have him leave the money behind and suddenly retire before ever playing a snap with his new team.

Most surprising move: Running back Ahmad Bradshaw's time with the Colts looked to be over after the team announced in October he was having season-ending neck surgery. Bradshaw wanted to continue his career, but it appeared it would have to be elsewhere because of Indianapolis' loaded backfield. But Bradshaw's desire to win and team with Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson in the backfield brought him back for at least another year.

Best move Part II: The Colts couldn't risk not addressing the receiver situation. Veteran Reggie Wayne is coming off ACL surgery, and you don't know what you're going to get out of young receivers Da'Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen. Signing former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks to a one-year deal is a win-win situation for the Colts and Nicks. Nicks is coming off a season in which he didn't catch a touchdown pass for the first time in his career, and he's looking to land a nice payday in 2015. Nicks is a proven receiver and gives the Colts another option to go with T.Y. Hilton if Wayne can't regain his previous form.

Jaguars offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

.With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Jacksonville Jaguars' offseason moves:

Best move: It has been forgotten after the moves in free agency and excitement over the draft, but general manager David Caldwell trading Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick was a shrewd move. Caldwell managed to get something for a player who obviously wasn't in the team's plans and was going to be cut before camp anyway. He used that pick to draft Virginia center Luke Bowanko, a player who will compete with Mike Brewster for the starting job. Caldwell essentially got a potential starter -- and at least a player who can contribute at guard as well -- for nothing.

[+] EnlargeToby Gerhart
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerFormer Vikings RB Toby Gerhart is largely unproven as a feature back at the NFL level.
Riskiest move: The natural assumption would be taking quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick, but the Jaguars at least have some insurance in the form of Chad Henne if the Bortles move doesn't work out. There is no such luxury at running back if the free-agent signing of Toby Gerhart doesn't work out. While he did produce in the limited work he got behind Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Gerhart hasn't been a feature back since his days at Stanford. The Jaguars' only somewhat proven option behind him is Jordan Todman, a third-year back with 79 career carries.

Most surprising move: The Jaguars didn't land him, but it was a bit of a surprise to see how aggressively they pursued Cleveland center Alex Mack despite the fact that the Browns put the transition tag on him. The Jaguars put together an offer they felt Cleveland wouldn't match -- $42 million over five years ($26 million guaranteed) with a player option in the third year and a no-tag clause -- but the Browns quickly did. Still, the attempt served as a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be an afterthought any longer.

Overlooked move: Drafting guard Brandon Linder in the third round didn't move the excitement needle, but he may end up being one of the Jaguars' biggest rookie contributors. The interior of the offensive line was a weakness in 2013, and the Jaguars started to fix that in free agency by signing Zane Beadles to start at left guard. Linder was picked to be the starter at right guard. The proof of how much they are counting on him was the release of guard Will Rackley, the team's third-round pick in 2011, three days after Linder was drafted. Linder played both guard spots and center at Miami, and that versatility is an added bonus.
Johnny ManzielRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesIs Tony Romo's back enough of a concern for the Dallas Cowboys that they'd take a flier on the media circus that would come with drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel?

IRVING, Texas -- Johnny Manziel is the most polarizing player in this draft, so naturally people believe he will end up with the Dallas Cowboys, the most polarizing team in the NFL.

With the first round coming fast, ESPNDallas writers take a roundtable look at what a union of the Cowboys and Manziel would mean.

SportsNation

Should the Cowboys take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 16th pick if he falls to them?

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    56%
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    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,137)

Todd Archer: Let's make an huge assumption here that Manziel will be available at No. 16 when the Cowboys pick in the first round. I ask this question first: Should the Cowboys pick the Texas A&M quarterback? We'll get to "Would the Cowboys pick him?" in a second.

My take is, yes, the Cowboys should take him, and I'm not even thinking about the marketing opportunities and off-field stuff that Jerry Jones thinks about. From a football standpoint, I'd argue it would be a great value pick. There is no way the Green Bay Packers thought they would get Aaron Rodgers in 2005 late in the first round, but they took him even when Brett Favre was playing well. Tony Romo is 34 and coming off two back surgeries. I think he'll be fine and return to form, but what happens if he doesn't or he takes a big hit in Week 8 and is down for the year?

Jerry always tried to find a quarterback on the cheap after Troy Aikman retired and he never found a guy until Romo. And that was lucky. I think he'd be lucky again if Manziel were there at No. 16.

Calvin Watkins: I don't believe the Cowboys should take him. No. 1, I don't believe he'll fall to No. 16 or even out of the top 10. If he does fall to No. 16, the Cowboys should either bypass him or trade down. This team has bigger holes to address such as secondary and defensive line before quarterback. There are quarterbacks later, such as Aaron Murray from Georgia, who can be taken in the second or third round. Yeah, I know Romo is coming off back surgery and he's 34 and all of that. It's a back injury and you never know about backs. However, getting Manziel at No. 16 isn't worth it to me. You can find a good quarterback to groom in the later rounds.

Tim MacMahon: Heck, yes. If you can get a guy you feel is a franchise quarterback in the middle of the first round, you do it, especially when the fate of your franchise rests on a 34-year-old back that has been operated on twice in the past year. This isn't about trying to run Romo out of town. It would be a chance to extend the window of having a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback another decade or so, an opportunity the Cowboys shouldn't pass up after navigating that rickety bridge from Aikman to Romo. It would be complicated for a couple of years because of Romo's massive contract and the potential chemistry issues that Roger Staubach mentioned, but it would be well worth it if Manziel can make plays in the NFL like he did in the SEC.

Jean-Jacques Taylor: No. No. No. A thousand times no. This team has way too many holes to draft a quarterback in the first round to sit behind Romo for at least three years. That makes absolutely no sense. When Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers and let him sit, they were a contender. They could afford to do it. There's a good chance Jason Garrett gets fired at the end of next season if he's not in the playoffs. Do you think he wants to take a first-round pick and stash him for the next coach? Heck, no. This was the worst defense in the universe last year. Are they really going to miss out on a chance to help it to draft a quarterback who may or may not be a star?

Archer: OK, let’s move on to the second part of the question: Would the Cowboys take Manziel if he is there at No. 16?

I believe they would. We always talk about how the Cowboys should draft a quarterback every year, so now when they could do it, we’re going to say, "No, not that guy?" I don’t think the next Cowboys quarterback will be developed by this team. In other words, a middle-round pick who sits for a few years and takes over. Almost all of the top quarterbacks come from the first or second round. The Cowboys would have Manziel ready to go without the burden of having to carry the franchise early on. He is skilled. He has ability. And he is a draw. I do think it would be incumbent on the coaches to manage this thing the right way because the second Romo throws a poor pass, fans will be calling for Manziel. You can't operate that way.

Watkins: Say the Cowboys do take him, which I doubt, can you imagine if Romo has a bad game? He has been known to have them from time to time. Garrett would be under pressure to send Manziel into the game when he's not ready. Then if he does use Manziel, you've got a media and fan circus. The Cowboys have endured their own type of drama from Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Romo's own issues, Jerry Jones and how he runs the franchise among other things, but a quarterback drama isn't fun for anybody. Having Manziel around isn't fun. But if Jerry drafted him he wouldn't care, it would be about the business of marketing and not the business of football.

MacMahon: Well, that might depend on who gets the last word in with GM Jerry. I can’t imagine Garrett, a head coach fighting to keep his job as he enters the last season of his contract, would be thrilled with the idea of using a first-round pick on a guy who might be holding a clipboard and still drawing a media horde as a rookie. But Stephen Jones seems just as enamored with Johnny Football as his father is. I don't think Jerry could help himself if Manziel were available when the Cowboys are on the clock. A strong football argument can be made for Manziel as a fit, and it’d be a home run for the marketing department. And we all know the Cowboys' GM cares about marketing almost as much as he does about football.

Taylor: Jerry loves collecting baubles. We know this. Dez Bryant was a bauble. So was Terrell Owens. And Rocket Ismail. He loves any marketing aspect that added more cash to the family treasure trove. I can absolutely see Jerry using the force of his personality to persuade Garrett and vice president Stephen Jones the right move to make is adding Johnny Football to the roster, even though he's going to sit for multiple seasons and wouldn't make an impact on the team unless Romo was hurt. Hey, at least the preseason games would be sold out.

Archer: Let's be honest, he won't be there at No. 16 and I think we all believe it would cost too much to trade up to get him, so who takes Manziel and why is he a better fit there than with the Cowboys?

I’m going with Jacksonville. They need a quarterback and they need a draw. It’s probably not the most sound football decision to think of it like that, but the Jaguars have no juice. Manziel would give them some juice. And the Cowboys will see him at Wembley in November. Perfect.

Watkins: It's interesting, but when I read Ourlads' mock draft, it didn't have Manziel going until No. 26 to Cleveland. But when I look at the top 10, I can see six teams taking him. I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4, but you have to wonder about the weather in the AFC North. Manziel hasn't played in that on a regular basis in college. Can he produce in cold weather in Pittsburgh and Baltimore in November and December? Oakland seems logical as well at No. 5. Matt Schaub should start in 2014 and Manziel would get his chance the following year. It's just no easy place for him to go. Houston, I don't believe, thinks Manziel is better than the two defensive players. So, I guess to answer this question, I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4.

MacMahon: I think the Browns take him at No. 4. The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since cutting Bernie Kosar, and drafting Manziel would fire up a rabid fan base desperately searching for a reason to be optimistic. Strange as it sounds, I also see Cleveland as a team that would give Manziel a chance to succeed early in his NFL career. Josh Gordon just led the NFL in receiving yards as a 22-year-old despite dealing with a QB rotation. Tight end Jordan Cameron is coming off a Pro Bowl season as a 25-year-old. The Browns have two Pro Bowl offensive linemen -- left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack -- who are in their prime. And Cleveland addressed its need for a running back by signing Ben Tate. Add an electrifying quarterback, and the Browns might actually have one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.

Taylor: On the surface, Jacksonville should be really intrigued by Johnny Football because they need a quarterback and they need someone to put butts in seats. They're going to be bad again, so they need a playmaker on offense. That said, coach Gus Bradley is a defense-minded dude, so he'll probably go defense and take Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. That leaves Johnny Football to Cleveland. The Browns have a really good, young defense. They have a young star in receiver Josh Gordon. What they need is a triggerman. Since 2002, the Browns have had 10 different players lead them in passing, which is not a positive. If he's the star some project, Johnny Football will turn that franchise around and he'll own the city.
Got questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I'll try to answer a representative selection of them every Saturday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.
 
INDIANAPOLIS -- Center Phil Costa wasn't even around long enough to be asked about dating Hulk Hogan's daughter let alone possibly hike the ball to quarterback Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts.

Costa, in a surprising announcement, has decided to retire.

"Phil feels it's in his best interest to retire from the game," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said in a statement released by the team. "We certainly understand and wish him nothing but the best."

The Colts signed Costa to a two-year, $2.7 million contract that included $450,000 guaranteed last month.

UPDATE: The Colts do not have to pay Costa any of the guaranteed money he was scheduled to make since he decided to retire.

The idea was for Costa to compete with Khaled Holmes for the starting center position, but I got the sense that the Colts were hoping Holmes would win the job. Costa, who started with the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, was beat out by rookie Travis Frederick last season.

Holmes only played 12 snaps and was a healthy inactive 11 times last season as a rookie.

Now the Colts are in serious of need of adding another center to the roster. This isn't a position they should be in with their franchise player Luck. The little bit of good news out of Costa telling the Colts he was retiring is that he did it now and not after training camp had already started. It gives Grigson some time to try to find another center to add to the roster.

Alex Mack?

Nope. The Cleveland Browns quickly matched the offer the Jacksonville Jaguars gave him.

Mike McGlynn?

McGlynn, who plays guard and center, was the best center on the Colts' roster last season, but the team had no interest in re-signing him. McGlynn is now with the Washington Redskins.

Samson Satele?

Next.

Kyle Cook, Mike Gibson and Steve Vallos are the three best centers still available on the free agent market, according to Bill Polian's free agent tracker.

Grigson said during the NFL owners' meetings last month that he wasn't overly impressed with the group of free agent centers.

That takes us to the draft. The Colts' first pick is not until No. 59 in the second round.

Here's a recap of the top 10 centers in the draft, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.:

1. Marcus Martin, USC
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado St.
3. Russell Bodine, North Carolina
4. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
5. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
6. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
7. James Stone, Tennessee
8. Bryan Stork, Florida St.
9. Corey Linsley, Ohio St.
10. Tyler Larsen, Utah St.
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.
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.
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."


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There’s nothing wrong with swinging for the fences every once in a while. Sometimes it works and you do hit one into the stands.

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell took a shot with Alex Mack. He didn’t connect because the Cleveland Browns quickly decided to match the Jaguars’ five-year, $42 million ($26 million guaranteed) offer sheet Mack signed earlier on Friday. But it was a heckuva swing.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit for attempting to steal one of the game’s best offensive linemen away from a Browns team that made a mistake by not using the franchise tag. The contract was structured in a way that was supposed to make it difficult for the Browns to accept by including a clause that allowed Mack to void the deal after two years, but Browns management accepted that risk.

Even though Caldwell was unable to pull it off, it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren’t going to be the last guy picked for the dodgeball game any longer. Owner Shad Khan has made a significant financial contribution to the team’s facilities -- spending $11 million to renovate the weight room and locker room and $20 million to help finance the stadium and scoreboard improvements -- and now he is showing he’s willing to do the same when it comes to improving the roster.

Adding seven free agents, including guard Zane Beadles ($30 million over five years) and defensive linemen Red Bryant ($19.5 million over four years) and Chris Clemons ($17.5 million over four years), was a good indication of that commitment, but his willingness to give Caldwell the green light to pay that much money to land Mack offers even more proof.

Caldwell has steadily improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Taking a shot at Mack was a shrewd gamble that would have accelerated the rebuilding process. It didn’t work, but the Jaguars are no worse than they were before Mack signed the offer sheet.

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.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The next five days are not going to be easy for Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley.

At any moment, they may find out that the Cleveland Browns have decided to match the offer the Jaguars made to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. That news could come Friday night or they may not find out until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, which is the deadline for the Browns' decision.

Until then, all they can do is wait and hope that the potential contract is structured in a way that will deter the Browns from accepting despite having the significant cap room available (roughly $30 million). ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the contract is for $42 million over five years, including $26 million guaranteed. The contract also allows Mack to void the deal after the first two years and includes clauses that prohibit him from being traded or tagged again.

That deal isn't exactly team friendly, but it's much worse for the Browns than it is the Jaguars -- and for that the fans can thank former general managers Shack Harris and Gene Smith. Caldwell can afford to pay Mack that much guaranteed money because he doesn't have to worry about having to pay big money to re-sign any current Jaguars players within the next three to four years.

None of the players from Harris' final two drafts (2008 and 2009) remain on the roster. Eight of the 26 players that Smith drafted from 2009-12 are still with the team, but none will deserve big contracts. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is gone and receiver Justin Blackmon is currently serving an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. A team would be foolish to sign Blackmon to anything but a minimum deal.

With the rookie salary structure keeping signing bonuses and contracts reasonable, the Jaguars will be able to handle Mack's front-loaded contract over the next three seasons. Even if players from the 2013 draft class like safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, left tackle Luke Joeckel or receiver Ace Sanders do become elite players, they are on four-year deals that won't expire until after the 2016 season.

The Jaguars added seven free agents (not counting Mack) but some of those contracts include bonuses tied to playing time and most are front-loaded, especially for older players such as defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Red Bryant.

So the Jaguars can certainly afford Mack, and if the Browns decline to match the offer the Jaguars will have solidified the left side of their offensive line for at least the next three years until Joeckel' s rookie deal is up after 2016.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit if he can pull this off, and it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be last guy picked for the dodge ball game any longer. Caldwell has rapidly improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. This potential Mack signing shows he's not a na´ve, easy mark, either.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and GM Ray Farmer, who is in his first season with the team, certainly didn't handle the Mack situation as deftly as Caldwell. Instead of giving Mack the franchise tag, which guaranteed Mack a salary of $11.6 million in 2014 and meant any team that signed him would have to part with two first-round picks, they used the transition tag. That saved the Browns about $1.5 million in salary in 2014 and they had the right to match any offer that Mack received, but it also meant they wouldn't get any compensation if they didn't.

It was a gamble, and regardless of their decision on Mack they've lost. They either lose one of the best offensive linemen in the game or they agree to a contract that they can afford now but will impact their ability to extend the contracts of some of their other stars, like cornerback Joe Haden, receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Plus, they could get Mack for 2014 and 2015 and lose him with no compensation if he exercises the clause that allows him to void the deal after two seasons.

The Browns may very well decide to match the Jaguars' offer, at which point the Jaguars will be no worse off than they were before Mack signed his offer sheet on Friday. But credit Caldwell for taking a calculated shot, one that could play a significant role in changing the franchise's direction.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell is close to putting together what could become a pretty good offensive line.

Provided the Cleveland Browns don't match whatever offer the Jaguars are expected to make to center Alex Mack on Friday, of course.

Mack
If the Jaguars are able to land the Pro Bowler, Caldwell will have put together a group of players that has a chance to become the team's best offensive line in more than a decade. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack is a significant upgrade from Brad Meester, who retired after the 2013 season, physically and has shown he's adept at handling the myriad of disguised fronts and looks defenses are using.

The Jaguars added Pro Bowler Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) in free agency and installed him as the starter at left guard, lining up alongside second-year tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. Joeckel (6-6, 306) played in only five games, four at right tackle and less than a half at left tackle. He did show a lot of promise in the short time he was on the left side, keeping St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks last season, at bay.

When Joeckel moved from right tackle to left tackle following Eugene Monroe's trade to Baltimore, first-year player Austin Pasztor stepped into the starting job at right tackle and held onto the job for the rest of the season. The coaching staff likes the 6-7, 308-pounder and is excited about his potential as a long-term starter.

The only question mark is what the team will do at right guard. The Jaguars released Uche Nwaneri last month and could move left guard Will Rackley, who started 12 games last season, into that spot. The Jaguars also could try Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon or Cameron Bradfield there as well, or draft a guard in the middle rounds.

Another possibility -- which seems unlikely at this point -- would be for the Jaguars to draft Greg Robinson or Luke Matthews at No. 3 and slide Pasztor to right guard.

Even taking the uncertainty at right guard into consideration, the Jaguars' new-look line has the potential to be pretty formidable over the next several seasons, as long as Joeckel continues to develop and Mack and Beadles continue to play at a Pro Bowl level.

The Jaguars haven't had a truly dominant offensive line since the 1999 season. That group was anchored by left tackle Tony Boselli, generally recognized as the best left tackle in the game at the time, and right tackle Leon Searcy. Ben Coleman, Zach Wiegert and Rich Tylski were the guards and John Wade started every game at center.

The '99 team didn't set any rushing records but long-time Jaguars observers consider that the best offensive line in team history. The Jaguars did go 14-2 that season and lost to Tennessee in the AFC Championship game.

The potential lineup in 2014 and beyond has a chance to be better than any group the Jaguars have had in the last decade. At the very least it's pretty much a guarantee that newly-acquired running back Toby Gerhart is going to be spending a large amount of time running behind the left side.

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