I don’t begrudge Alex Mack or any NFL player for trying to get as much money as possible in the open market.
That’s the up side of becoming a free agent at the height of your career, and Mack is one of the league’s very best centers – if not the best.
The down side is the perception that you aren’t only pursuing the deal of a lifetime, but that you’d prefer to play somewhere, anywhere besides your current team.
Fair or unfair, that’s where Mack finds himself.
The Jaguars obviously don’t present the opportunity for the upgrade that Mack presumably set out to find last month when he became free to shop himself to the rest of the NFL. When his agent talked about getting an offer that the Browns wouldn’t match to retain him under the terms of the transition tag, it was widely assumed that it would come from a team that had recently been to the playoffs.
Now that that offer could come from a club that, like the Browns, hasn’t had a winning season since 2007, there’s a distinct sense that Mack is, in fact, determined to depart the Browns.
Granted, Mack has seen far too much turnover with the Browns’ coaching staff and front office to easily come around to accepting that things are going to be different this time around.
But he can see the win-now approach that new GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine have taken in adding older and more experienced free agents, something the Browns haven’t done in several years.
Perhaps the Jaguars, or another team, will make Mack an offer that the Browns won’t want to match. If so, his would be a big loss and the momentum built by the offseason moves made so far and likely to be enhanced by the additions from next month’s draft will take a significant hit. The Browns have more than sufficiently filled key holes through free agency, but replacing a Pro Bowl center would be an enormous challenge.
Or maybe the Jaguars or another team will give Mack a long-term contract that the Browns will match. Or maybe he won’t get a proposal that he finds acceptable, and plays for the Browns on the one-year, $10-million-plus deal guaranteed by the transition tag.
Financially, Mack won’t lose. However, if he does end up remaining in Cleveland, the question will linger about whether he truly wants to be with the Browns.
Farmer and Pettine want players who fully buy in to what they are putting together. Their “play like a Brown” mantra means something to them, and they want it to mean every bit as much to all of the players.
At the very least, Mack could use the one-year agreement to get a feel for yet another new Browns regime and figure out if things truly are different this time. There are worse things than being paid far more than any center in the league for a single season while trying to determine if you want to stick around a little longer.
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