In 2006, the Seattle Seahawks placed their transition tag on offensive guard Steve Hutchinson. The transition tag is a one-year, fully guaranteed deal much like the franchise tag, but gave Hutchinson the freedom to negotiate and sign a contract with another team. The Seahawks, however, retained the right to match the offer exactly as it's written and keep him in Seattle. Hutchinson went on to sign a seven-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings worth $49M.
Within the contract was a clause that if at any point he was not the highest paid offensive lineman on the team, the contract became fully guaranteed. You see, the year before, the Seahawks had signed offensive tackle Walter Jones to a $52M deal, meaning if the Seahawks were to match the offer for Hutchinson the "'poison pill" clause would be immediately activated and fully guarantee his contract. The Vikings, on the other hand, had no such dilemma.
Fast forward to 2014, NFL.com is reporting that Cleveland Browns Center Alex Mack is signing a five year, $42M deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Browns placed their transition tag on Mack, so they have the right to match the deal which will pay him about $18M in just the first two years.
At first glance, it seems like a no brainer that the Browns would match the offer. The transition tag itself was worth more than $10M, so $18M over two years should not be enough to scare the Browns away. Owner Jim Haslett himself went on the record a few days ago to suggest that the Browns would match almost any offer Mack got on the market.
However, the report also says that the deal includes a player option to void the contract after two years. That means that Mack will be able to hit free agency again after the 2015 season, and the Browns (or Jags) will not be able to place the franchise or transition tag on him again. While this isn't a true poison pill like the one the Vikings used years ago (the NFL banned using poison pills after that whole fiasco), this is a true game changer in the way the Browns approach this contract.
Do they match the offer and possibly pay Mack $18M only to see him bolt in two years? Or do they simply cut ties now and try to find his replacement while they still have loads of draft picks? Whatever happens, the Jaguars are showing that they are being creative and aggressive in improving their roster, which has to be encouraging to fans who have suffered through some terrible teams.
To be honest, I still expect them to match the offer and hope that in two years they can show enough improvement that Mack won't want to opt out. Finding a legitimate quarterback would go a long way toward that goal.
**UPDATE**: Albert Breer is now reporting that in addition to the player option to void after 2015, the contract includes a no-trade clause for the first 3 years of the deal. Meaning if the Browns do match the offer, Mack can opt out in two years, and the Browns will truly have no way of getting any compensation for losing him.