Unlike the franchise tag, which is a one-year deal that guarantees the player the average of the five largest current-year salaries at his position, the transition tag promises to pay the player the average of the 10 largest prior-year salaries at his position.
The biggest difference, however, is that while a franchised player can negotiate with other teams, if he signs elsewhere, the franchising team has the option to match the contract or accept two first-round picks as compensation. With the transition tag, the player can negotiate with other teams, but if he signs elsewhere the original team has the right to match in seven days, but gets nothing in the way of compensation. This is one of the reasons the transition tag is rarely used.
The franchise tag for offensive linemen is approximately $11.6 million. The transition tag? About $10 million. So the Browns, who are approximately $47 million under salary-cap space (according to OvertheCap.com), save roughly $1.6 million with this move. Put another way: It makes you wonder why they didn't just franchise Mack and work on a new long-term contract before the season.
Former Packers executive Andrew Brandt has an idea.
The @Browns placement of Transition Tag on Mack is interesting. Have ample Cap room: saying to other teams: "Take your best shot."— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) March 3, 2014
It also allows the market to set Mack's worth. Maybe his camp thinks he's worth more than the Browns are willing to pay. By allowing other teams to negotiate, there won't be any confusion. The problem for the Browns, though, is that a team in desperate need of a center could be willing to pay Mack a sum the Browns wouldn't. (In related news: The Browns are in desperate need of a center.)
Mack is considered one of the NFL's best center and ranked fifth in ProFootballFocus.com's list of top free agents:
"As consistent a center as there is in the league, Mack may be the safest free agent out there. No health concerns, no character red flags and a history of production, he's arguably coming off his best year where he was our fourth ranked center."