The Cleveland Browns and center Alex Mack reunited with a five-year deal last week, totaling $42 million after the team matched the offer sheet put forth by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like any big contract, it will affect plenty of others going forward.
Without question, Maurkice Pouncey, star center of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is one of those men. Pouncey has been one of the best linemen in his four NFL seasons, showing he was worth the 18th overall pick in 2010. The 24-year-old is due $5.5 million in 2014 before becoming an unrestricted free agent, when he would become the premier center on the market.
Pouncey will likely be looking for a similar deal to Mack, who is 28 years old and has only been a second-team All-Pro once. Pouncey is a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, but also has an injury history. Pouncey missed all but the season-opener last year with a torn ACL and MCL when guard David DeCastro accidentally hit into him from behind.
Pouncey also missed the Super Bowl after injuring his ankle during his rookie season. In 2011, Pouncey was out for two contests and missed another game in 2012. While he has played a majority of the Steelers games before last season, the injury concern remains a factor.
From an organizational standpoint, the team has plenty of free agents after 2014 including Pouncey, Jason Worilds, Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, Cameron Heyward and Marcus Gilbert. Currently, Pittsburgh is in good shape financially after making some tough decisions this offseason such as letting Emmanuel Sanders and LaMarr Woodley walk, holding $23.4 million in projected cap space.
It would seem with an aging and less mobile Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket, the Steelers will want to invest in the offensive line. The group has been the source of much angst in Pittsburgh in recent years, despite two first-round picks in Pouncey and DeCastro and two second-rounders in Mike Adams and Gilbert.
If Pittsburgh lets Pouncey walk, there will be an uprising in the Steel City. Entering the perceived prime of his career, Pouncey will likely command somewhere in the five- to six-year range and want as much guaranteed money as Mack if not more.
SB Nation NFL
SB Nation NFL
Mack's deal gave him the largest guaranteed amount ever for a center, netting $26 million. Ryan Kalil comes in second with $19 million guaranteed, while Nick Mangold ranks third with $16 million. Pouncey's largest obstacle with getting more than Mack's contract is his situation. Mack's contract was born from special circumstances, a restricted free agent who was dealing with the Browns, one of the more dysfunctional franchises.
Cleveland should have locked Mack up to a long-term deal before he hit free agency, but the powers that be allowed him to twist in the wind. Ultimately, Jacksonville — who is flush with cap space — signed Mack to a massive offer sheet. The Browns had no choice but to sign it, letting their battered fans know they still care.
Pouncey will be unrestricted and talking with Pittsburgh, a model franchise. The Steelers will have a set price and not exceed it, as shown by ex-Steelers such as Plaxico Burress, Mike Wallace, Alan Faneca and so forth. Pouncey also has the aforementioned knee injury, a red flag that will cost him somewhat during bargaining.
All told, Pouncey will get his. Every talented NFL player does, despite any shortcomings or injury histories. Teams always see the potential in players, and it is obvious Pouncey has worlds of it. Pittsburgh will make its best play, likely offering north of $20 million in guarantees. We will see if it's enough.