Alex Mack has been a stud center for the Cleveland Browns and is expected to opt out of his contract. The Jacksonville Jaguars need help at center and have a past relationship, how could this all play out?
Back in April of 2014, the Jacksonville Jaguars and transition-tagged center Alex Mack agreed to terms on a large deal that would bring the stud center to Jacksonville for $42 million. The Cleveland Browns matched the offer, keeping Mack in Cleveland. As noted in that NFL.com article by Marc Sessler, this was a no-brainer for the Browns. Mack is that good.
But part of that cost was allowing Mack the option to opt out of the contract before the start of the league year in 2016.
Now, as noted by Dan Hanzus at NFL.com and originally reported by Ian Rapoport, Mack is expected to take advantage of that opt out clause and let the bidding begin for his services. It’s important to note that this doesn’t rule out the Browns as a player for Mack, just that he’s looking for a new contract.
Hanzus speculates that Mack will be the highest paid center in NFL history. This means that a number of teams, especially the winners that Mack has apparently been interested in joining, could be priced out. Mack’s last deal had $18 million in guarantees over the first two seasons and only a handful of teams have enough cap space to load up a deal that’s more generous than his last $40+ million with those size guarantees.
Looking at the list of teams by cap space for 2016 (via Spotrac), there are few winning teams with significant cap space to spend at only one position, even if center is important. This could give teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars (most cap space) an edge over the perennial competitors or teams opening their playoff windows.
Is the past Alex Mack-Jacksonville Jaguars agreement, superseded by the Browns, enough of a foundation to warrant considering the Jaguars as the front runner? They’re in a financial position where spending on a Pro-Bowl center is not just feasible, but also desirable, enabling the team to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting franchise quarterback Blake Bortles.
Then again, the Browns could strike again and steal Mack right out from under the Jags’ noses for the second time. Mack has praised the recent actions by the Browns front office, chief among them being the hiring of new head coach Hue Jackson and what he can bring to the organization.
Mack could end up selecting any team other than the Jags and Browns, though. While Mack was impressed with what head coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell were building back in 2014, after two years of lackluster performances, the turnaround may be taking too long for Mack. A long rebuild, even one three years underway, might not be something he’s interested in at this stage in his career. The same argument could be made for the Browns.
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All of that said, expect the Jacksonville Jaguars to come calling and to be in play. They need to fill the hole at center and they know that they want Mack. He’s going to be available now and Caldwell and Bradley will likely do everything in their power to convince him that what he saw two years ago is still the same type of atmosphere that he should want now.
They also need to prove to him that they can win.