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The Waiting Game
One of the most frustrating times of the year can be marked by the often glacier-like movement that occurs as teams try to sign their first round draft picks. The entire process seems almost futile in terms of gaining leverage, which is so common in the capitalist stained bonanza of the NFL, as teams are unwilling to give a dollar more than what has been already been established by the player's draft position. Unfortunately, for Browns fans, the fates of the players drafted around Alex Mack may likely determine the speed in which our top choice is signed. Dave Kolonich talks about it in his latest piece for us.
One of the most frustrating times of the year can be marked by the often glacier-like movement that occurs as teams try to sign their first round draft picks. The entire process seems almost futile in terms of gaining leverage, which is so common in the capitalist stained bonanza of the NFL, as teams are unwilling to give a dollar more than what has been already been established by the player's draft position. Outside of the overall first pick, and in special cases, such as the Jets' signing of Mark Sanchez, it is frustrating for fans and often for the players themselves to have to wait for their value to be established, before getting into camp.
Blame it on Obama, or the laws of average, but although it appears that Alex Mack could be a vital part of the Browns offensive fortunes in 2009, all parties are playing a wait and see approach regarding his rookie contract.
Unfortunately, for Browns fans, the fates of the players drafted around Mack may likely determine the speed in which our top choice is signed. This is great for the bottom line, not so great for a team that features an aging Hank Fraley being bull-rushed by the likes of Casey Hampton and Haloti Ngata. Although it could be considered a stretch to think that a rookie center will immediately step in and contribute to an NFL line, the shape of the Browns current roster demands such a thing happen.
If you compare the players drafted immediately before and after Mack, his contract situation becomes even more muddled. Offensive weapons Jeremy Maclin and Brandon Pettigrew were selected directly before Mack, and Percy Harvin and Michael Oher were taken after. While Pettigrew will not break the bank considering both his position and the Lions' already bursting rookie salary cap, the cases of Harvin and Maclin present a unique challenge, mainly based on their dynamic talents, which do not directly translate into one specified position.
Blame it on Urban Meyer, or the laws of evolution, but both players represent the new hybrid of college playmakers who resemble a Gerald McNeil type of punt returner in terms of size, but can line up at a variety of positions on the field. This versatility obviously presents opponents with a number of matchup problems, but further helps to cloud each player's overall financial worth. For example, will Harvin and Maclin be paid among the likes of a traditional wide receiver, or does their value reflect more of a running back, or even special teams type contributor?
The 2008 draft doesn't offer a similar comparison, with the slight exception of Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, who went in the second round...which could further complicate things on the Eagles' side, as they are adding another strikingly similar player. In Mack's case, perhaps a better comparison could be the eventual signing status of Baltimore's Michael Oher, who could command a salary similar to Carolina's Jeff Otah from a year ago. Although since Oher was selected after Mack, it is very possible that the Ravens are waiting for Cleveland to set the price standard.
Possibly the best comparison of Mack's value is Atlanta's signing of tackle Sam Baker in 2008. The Falcons locked up their left tackle of the future with a 5 year, 13.5 million dollar deal, with about half of the money guaranteed. While not a perfect comparison, this could be the target range for Mack's upcoming deal. However, the value of signing Baker, at the exact spot in the draft that Mack was taken this year, may be a bit inflated thanks to the higher value given to tackles over centers.
The unique problem in assigning value to Mack is the rarity of a center being taken in the first round. The closest comparison is a reach back to Eric Mangini's time with the Jets and his selection of center Nick Mangold. Mangold's rookie deal was roughly half of Baker's 2008 contract, and obviously, three years of financial spikes in the NFL can seem like a lifetime. Although Mack is viewed as a cornerstone of the Browns' offensive line, his financial value will probably not translate as such.
The same could be said regarding wideout Brian Robiskie, although the distance is much closer in his case. Robiskie's draft position, as the 36th pick in the draft, removes him from cashing in on a rich rookie deal, as he is likely to wind up with a contract similar to Green Bay's Jordy Nelson, taken at the exact spot in the 2008 draft. The Browns certainly won't have to break the bank for Robiskie, as Nelson signed a modest 4 year, 3 million dollar deal in 2008. Although Robiskie looks to be a better prospect than Nelson, I can't imagine the Browns will have to spend much more than this amount.
Besides the frustrating pace at which these rookie deals get done, another point that is becoming increasingly obvious is the unbelievable value the Browns may receive from Mack and Robiskie over the next couple seasons. In NFL terms, these players are incredibly cheap and if recent camp reports are any indication, both Mack and Robiskie could receive a wealth of playing time in 2009. This is quite the departure from the Phil Savage era, where LeCharles Bentley's free agent deal was triple what Mack will probably receive and Donte Stallworth's contract rivaled the likes of Reggie Wayne and Devin Hester.
Blame it on Phil Savage, but for Browns fans who are still wary of Mangini's takeover of the franchise, one thing working in the little czar's favor is an adherence to a new sense of financial stability. If the Browns trading frenzy during the 2009 draft showed us anything, it is that Mangini is planning to rebuild the team with young, fairly cheap players. The looming uncapped 2010 season could see a further fruition of conservatism as the bloated contracts of several veteran players could be unburdened from the team's cap, including the likes of Corey Williams, Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis and Eric Steinbach.
Unlike nearly every other facet of the Browns front office management directives and on field performance, getting a quality rookie signed and into camp, especially one who brings great and immediate value, is completely out of the team's hands. Unfortunately, for Browns fans, the emergence of Mack may have to wait until several other teams decide the fates of their respective rookies. Or, perhaps these other teams are waiting for the Browns to make the first move.
Either way, we'll just have to wait and see.
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