Breaking Down Alex Mack’s Unusual Contract With Falcons

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY SportsAlex Mack

The Atlanta Falcons signed center Alex Mack to a five-year contract worth $45 million. The terms have been reported by others so far this offseason, but I’m going to go a layer deeper and break down what the terms of this contract actually mean for what expectations we can set for Mack’s future tenure in Atlanta.

First let’s talk about how Mack’s deal stacks up against the projection I made over a month ago.

Obviously, Mack’s total money was the same as I predicted. However I expected Mack to get about $18 million in guaranteed money, yet his actual guarantee was $28.5 million. That latter figure was the total in which Mack was paid in the first three years of his deal, which is a record-breaker for centers.

As I noted in my earlier piece projecting Mack’s contract, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey was the reigning champ in terms of three-year payouts with $27.95 million before Mack signed his deal. My projection had the Falcons paying out up to $27 million in the first three years, so Mack’s actual figure isn’t much different.

But let’s focus on the guarantees since that is the most compelling part of Mack’s deal. His contract is a bit odd due to the fact that there is a clause in the deal that guarantees the fourth year of the contract at the outset of the second year.

At signing, Mack’s $8.5 million base salary in 2019 is guaranteed for injury. Which means that if Mack suffers a career-threatening injury between now and then, he’ll get paid that money no questions asked.

However if Mack is on the Falcons roster as of May 15, 2017 (i.e. less than 14 months from now), that 2019 base salary becomes fully guaranteed.

What’s odd about that is that the Falcons opted to guarantee the 2019 base salary instead of the 2018 base salary, which is the same amount.

Now I should note a slight discrepancy in reporting the terms of Mack’s deal. Both Pro Football Talk and ESPN reported that Mack’s 2019 base salary is the one that becomes guaranteed as of May 2017, while SpoTrac reports it is his 2018 salary.

If SpoTrac’s breakdown is accurate, then there really isn’t anything weird about Mack’s deal. Having the third year’s base salary become fully guaranteed just before the start of the second year is nothing extraordinary when it comes to typical NFL contract structures.

However since Pro Football Talk makes note of the quirky structure of the contract as well as Vaughn McClure aping that aspect of the deal, I’m led to believe they are accurate in their assessment. And if that is the case, then it does require further analysis.

So what does this odd guarantee mean?

As already noted, this isn’t a very common occurrence with how contracts are structured. As is, what that likely means is that the Falcons are “locked in” with Mack through 2019. Given Mack’s age, 30, that is a quasi-risky proposition. Mack turns 34 at the end of the 2019 season.

What is notable is that so far under Dan Quinn’s regime, when a player has had guaranteed money coming up they have paid it out. That’s what happened last year when the Falcons had a chance to get out of the Tyson Jackson contract. The last $1.5 million of his $11 million guarantee kicked in at the outset of the 2015 league year and the Falcons paid it.

The team did the exact same thing this past offseason with Brooks Reed’s contract. Reed’s $2.5 million base salary became fully guaranteed earlier this month after being only guaranteed for injury at signing and the Falcons paid it.

With that precedent, it’s likely that the Falcons will willingly put themselves on the hook to pay out Mack’s guaranteed 2019 salary. In other words, unless something devastating happens in the next 14 months, the Falcons will allow that 2019 guarantee kick in next May 15.

However, it is notable that the guarantee doesn’t kick in until May 15 rather than during the first week of the league year as it did with the Jackson and Reed deals.

The 2017 league year is likely to start around March 8, yet the Falcons will have an additional nine weeks to make a decision on Mack. I think that is notable because that extra time gives the Falcons extra wiggle room with how they approach the deal.

It’s likely that the delayed deadline for deciding whether to make Mack’s contract guaranteed was purposefully included in the deal because it would give the Falcons time to restructure the deal.

That restructure might be the Falcons deciding to guarantee Mack’s 2018 salary instead of 2019. The Falcons might even try to lower Mack’s cap hit in 2017 if they so desire.

Right now, it looks to be a four-year deal worth $37 million, but the extra time next offseason might allow the Falcons to make it more of a three-year $28.5 million deal.

That nine-week delay in the guarantee clause gives the Flacons some flexibility and I think it would be a good bet that by the time we reach May 16, 2017, Mack’s contract will look different than it did at signing.

As for what it looked like at signing, here are the basic terms:

2016

Base Salary: $1.75 million (fully guaranteed)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.3 million
Cap Hit: $4.05 million

2017

Base Salary: $6.75 million (fully guaranteed)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.3 million
Cap Hit: $9.05 million

2018

Base Salary: $8.5 million
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.3 million
Cap Hit: $10.8 million

2019

Base Salary: $8.5 million (guaranteed for injury at signing, fully guaranteed as of May 15, 2017)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.3 million
Cap Hit: $10.8 million

2020

Base Salary: $8 million
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.3 million
Cap Hit: $10.3 million

 

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com