It's rare to see restricted free agents or transition players change teams in the NFL. It's rare to even see these players suggest that a move is possible, especially when the current team is particularly set on retaining said player. Center Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns is one player that's received a lot of buzz thanks to the fact that he's one of the best offensive linemen to technically hit the market in a long time, but that buzz has yet to translate to tangible interest from other NFL teams.
Mack was given the transition tag prior to the start of free agency, which means he's going to stick around in Cleveland so long as the team can match any offer sheet he signs elsewhere. Unfortunately for Mack, possibly the best center in the NFL, things are weighted in favor of the Browns.
The transition tag works a lot like the franchise tag, in that it's a one-year deal worth an average of top salaries from players at his position. Unlike the franchise tag, however, players are free to negotiate with other teams. But if the Browns didn't have the money to match an offer, they would have used the franchise tag, not the transition.
It's unfortunate for someone like Mack, who is legitimately one of the best at this position in the NFL. He hasn't missed a single game in five years, has been voted into the Pro Bowl and is easily deserving of a large contract and security going forward. But if he signs his tender, he won't have that.
It shouldn't be that difficult for him to go out and find a long-term deal, however. That would likely lead to the Browns matching said deal, and he might not want to remain with the Browns for that long. It's unclear what he actually wants for the future, but it's interesting to see a player like him in this position. He does have other options, if a team is willing to sign him to a deal that disallows him from being tagged again in 2015, or one that will pay him an otherworldly bonus at the start of the 2015 league year.
If the Browns happened to match either of those deals, he'd virtually guarantee that he'd hit the open market -- without restrictions -- in 2015. Regardless, there's a couple reasons the Browns are in a position of power in this situation:
For one, there's no such thing as a "poison pill" these days. The "poison pill" was most recently used in 2006, when the Minnesota Vikings managed to snag offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson from the Seattle Seahawks by putting a clause in his contract that was binding for the original team, but not the new one. The deal would have forced the Seahawks to guarantee Hutchinson a whopping $49 million, while Minnesota would have guaranteed just $18.5 million.
However, the new collective bargaining agreement set forth in 2011 added language that prevented clubs from signing players to offer sheets that would "create rights or obligations for the old club that differ in any way from the rights or obligations that such principle term would create for the club extending the offer sheet."
Some would argue that the poison pill, while tough to swallow for the team on the receiving end of it, is player-friendly. Hutchinson didn't seem to mind the way things played out and Mack would seemingly want the choice on where to end up playing in 2014. His agents have mentioned more than once that they expect him to have multiple visits and plenty of teams interested, once promising that they could get him an offer sheet that the Browns would be unable to match.
Such a move has yet to happen and is unlikely, however. The Browns have another thing going for them at this point, and it's pretty simple: they've got a ton of cap space. Cleveland is desperate to keep Mack, and with over $30 million in cap space for 2014, they've got to spend it somewhere. Mack's transition tag is worth $10 million, and it's hard to imagine him playing anywhere else next season.