Projecting What Alex Mack’s Contract With the Falcons Might Look Like

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY SportsAlex Mack

The Atlanta Falcons are set to have plenty of cap space this offseason, which might prompt them to be more active on the open market than they were a year ago. If that occurs, there could be several big-name free agents that the team pursues in order to upgrade the various areas of the roster that need improvement. I want to begin a series looking at some of the biggest free agents the team could pursue and examine what their potential asking points are. Let’s begin with Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack.

Using the salary cap and contract data over at Over the Cap, I looked at the top contracts signed by free agent centers the past two offseasons to get an idea of what it might cost for the Falcons to pursue Mack, should he do what everyone expects that he’ll do and opt out of his contract.

According to Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole, Mack is expected to do exactly that when free agency hits in March due to the belief that he can get more money elsewhere. Not to mention, it was reported that when Mack signed an offer sheet with the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2014, he wanted out of Cleveland but the Browns managed to match the deal and kept him in town for another two years.

Per Cole, Mack’s camp believes he can get more than $8 million per year in his next contract should he hit the open market. That makes sense since he’ll be the most coveted center this offseason despite the fact that he’ll turn 31 in November. He’ll be so coveted that former sports agent Joel Corry, who now writes for the National Football Post and CBS Sports, predicts that Mack could become the league’s first $10 million-a-year center.

Based off the contracts signed by Mack himself ($8.4 million/yr.), Mike ($8.95 million/yr.) and Maurkice Pouncey ($8.83 million/yr.) and Rodney Hudson ($8.9 million/yr.) over the past two offseasons, it seems that the market is ripe for a center to break records as Corry predicts. If anybody will do it, it certainly should be Mack.

Helping to drive up Mack’s price and market should be a number of teams along with Atlanta, including Jacksonville, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington that could potentially top the list. Other teams like Tennessee, Cincinnati and Indianapolis have opted to go young at the center position in recent years with underwhelming results and might also drive up Mack’s market this offseason.

More important than the annual price tag for a player like Mack may be the money paid out over the first three years as well as the guaranteed portion of any potential deal. Even if a team signs him to a long-term deal, his contract is likely to be structured in a way that allows them to get out after two or three years, which is often the case with free-agent deals.

Comparing the Top Contracts For Free Agent Centers

Let’s look at the four aforementioned contracts in these two main areas:

Total Payout in First Three Years

  1. Mike Pouncey – $27.95 million
  2. Maurkice Pouncey – $26.75 million
  3. Rodney Hudson – $26.5 million
  4. Alex Mack – $26.0 million

For Mack’s deal to set a new mark, the three-year payout should reach at least $28 million.

It’s worth noting that if Mack chooses not to opt out of his current Browns contract, he’d be due $24 million over the next three years. So at the very least, you can expect whatever the three-year payment on his next contract will eclipse that mark.

“Likely” Guaranteed Money in First Three Years

These figures include all guaranteed payments in the first three years, which include guaranteed base salaries along with any and all bonuses.

  1. Mike Pouncey – $22.0 million
  2. Maurkice Pouncey – $20.25 million
  3. Rodney Hudson – $20.0 million
  4. Alex Mack – $18.0 million

Mike Pouncey’s contract is once again the one to beat if Mack is looking to set a new benchmark for centers. I suspect that even a deal that falls into the $18-$20 million range is going to be more than good enough for Mack since his current contract with the Browns would pay him $16 million over the next two years with half of it guaranteed.

So we have two big parameters for what Mack’s contract might include: (1) a total payout over the first three years that in all probability ranges somewhere between $24 and $28 million and (2) a guaranteed portion of his contract that will likely fall in the $18 to $23 million range.

A Breakdown of Mack’s Possible Falcons Contract

Here’s a potential structure for a deal that might work:

Projected Terms: 5 years, $45 million with $18 million guaranteed.

This hypothetical deal includes $13.5 million in guaranteed money at signing, paid out in the first year of his contract. That money consists of a $3.5 million base salary in 2016 and a $10 million signing bonus that will be prorated for $2 million per year over the course of the entire contract.

This deal will also include $1 million in annual roster bonuses, dependent on whether Mack is on the team’s 46-man active roster and/or 53-man roster each and every Sunday during the regular season.  This is the same structure that the Falcons put in the contract extension Roddy White signed in 2014. The 46-man roster bonus equals a total of $250,000 if Mack is on the team’s gameday roster every Sunday. If Mack is injured or inactive, he’ll still get weekly payments that total $750,000 for the entire season.

2016

Base Salary: $3.5 million (fully guaranteed upon signing)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2 million
46-man Active Roster Bonus: $15,625 per week (for annual total of $250,000)
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $46,875 per week (for annual total of $750,000)
Cap Hit: $6.5 million

2017

Base Salary: $4.5 million (guaranteed for injury at signing, fully guaranteed if one the roster on third day of 2017 league year)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2 million
46-man Active Roster Bonus: $15,625 per week (for annual total of $250,000)
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $46,875 per week (for annual total of $750,000)
Cap Hit: $7.5 million

2018

Base Salary: $6 million
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2 million
46-man Active Roster Bonus: $15,625 per week (for annual total of $250,000)
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $46,875 per week (for annual total of $750,000)
Cap Hit: $9 million

2019

Base Salary: $7.5 million
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2 million
46-man Active Roster Bonus: $15,625 per week (for annual total of $250,000)
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $46,875 per week (for annual total of $750,000)
Cap Hit: $10.5 million

2020

Base Salary: $8.5 million
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2 million
46-man Active Roster Bonus: $15,625 per week (for annual total of $250,000)
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $46,875 per week (for annual total of $750,000)
Cap Hit: $11.5 million

This structure would certainly lock Mack in for at least two seasons in Atlanta. The first point where the Falcons can cut him and not take a cap penalty is in the spring of 2018, when they can free up $3 million in cap space.

At that point, Mack will be 33. Shaun O’Hara, Nick Hardwick, Dan Koppen and Chris Myers are examples of recent centers that started their last games in the NFL at age 33. And while there are numerous examples of centers like Todd McClure, Jeff Saturday, Dominic Raiola and Matt Birk that played well beyond that age (35 or older), it’s probably not safe to automatically assume that Mack will play that long.

So while this contract initially says that it’s a five-year deal that averages $9 million annually, it is in essence a two-year deal that averages $9 million annually. If Mack plays in every single game over that period, the contract would increase to a total payout of $20 million over the first two years, reaching that $10 million per year mark that Corry spoke about.

It also has a baseline three-year payout of $24 million, but assuming Mack plays in every game over the first three years, that number will reach $27 million. Which isn’t quite the $28 million that would be record-setting, but is awfully close.

How Mack Figures into the Falcons Future Plans

This isn’t a contract designed to make Mack a Falcon for the long haul. It’s a contract that is designed to get at least two years of solid center play while the team looks for or grooms his eventual replacement. At some point there is going to be a decline in Mack’s skills. It could be in 2016, 2018 or really any year moving forward. That’s the crapshoot nature of the NFL offseason.

Should the Falcons nab a developmental center in this year’s draft, they would be able to have him ride the bench for two years before he’d be forced into the lineup. Typically the third year is when offensive linemen tend to make their biggest strides as players, coinciding with the point where Mack might be declining.

The aforementioned Myers is a great example of a player that rode the bench for two years in Denver (while playing in a zone-blocking scheme under Mike Shanahan) before getting the opportunity to play in his third year. Myers started that season at left guard before sliding over to the center position when a 36-year old Tom Nalen got injured. Myers handled the starting center spot well for the final 11 games, and then got shipped over to the Houston Texans via trade the following spring where he managed to be a rock for them for the next seven seasons at center.

Ideally a similar scenario could happen in Atlanta (minus the trade of course), where the team could draft a center this year, develop him for two years and then plug him into the starting lineup come 2018 if/when Mack departs and have an unbroken chain of success for many, many years thereafter.

This is ostensibly the same plan that the Falcons have when they drafted Joe Hawley in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, back at a time when incumbent starter Todd McClure had two years left on his current contract. However the Falcons threw a wrench into that plan in 2012 when they re-signed McClure to a one-year deal to make one last push for the Super Bowl as well as used a second-round pick on Peter Konz in that same offseason.

In the End, Will the Falcons Pursue Mack?

All of this of course begs the question of whether the Falcons want to be the team that snags Mack at such an exorbitant price.

The Falcons took painstaking effort last offseason to avoid paying premiums for any free agents. Would they do a complete 180-degree turn this offseason by pursuing Mack? Especially in light of the potential opportunity to get a younger and cheaper option like current Jaguars center Stefen Wisniewski?

Over the Cap puts the Jaguars’ cap space as of this writing at roughly $80 million, which is the most in the league. The perception is that due to the minimum spending limit, the Jaguars will be compelled to overpay free agents, driving up the price tag of players like Mack, who I noted previously they tried to sign back in 2014.

That could potentially push Mack’s price beyond where the Falcons are willing to go, but also create an opportunity to for the team to swoop in and nab a player like Wisniewski, who will suddenly be without a team.

Wisniewski turns 27 towards the end of March and was been a solid starter throughout his five years in the NFL. He spent four years with the Oakland Raiders before signing with the Jaguars late last offseason after finding a slow market thanks to the shoulder surgery he had after the 2014 season. Per the Chicago Tribune, Wisniewski was seeking a contract that averaged $4 million per year last offseason, but ultimately was forced to settle for a one-year deal from Jacksonville that paid him $2.5 million in 2015.

Coming off a solid year with the Jaguars coupled with Mack increasing the market for centers, it’s likely that Wisniewski’s price tag will go up, but probably will still be far shy of what Mack is set to make.

Sitting here in late February, it’s hard to know whether the Falcons will make a major play for Mack. Given his experience working in Kyle Shanahan’s system for a single year in Cleveland and the center position being one of the Falcons’ most glaring needs this offseason, it makes sense for them to pursue Mack. But if the Falcons stick to the principles they established last offseason, then it’s likely that a player like Wisniewski might be their preferred target instead.

Only time will tell.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com

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