The Cleveland Browns are facing many tough decisions this offseason. Between possible (and probable) shifts along the coaching staff as well as the many questions surrounding the quarterback class of the 2014 NFL Draft, its safe to assume that Cleveland CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi will be working around the clock until draft day. One question, however, looms above the others:
Should they resign center Alex Mack or let him test the Free Agency market?
Alex Mack has been one of the bright spots on an otherwise bleak Browns offensive line since being drafted in 2009. Other than future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas, Mack is the only player on the offensive line to start every game since the 2009 season and has been a solid performer throughout his career. A two-time Pro Bowler (2010, 2013), Mack has been an anchor along the offensive line and Banner would do well to lock him down for the foreseeable future.
A first round draft pick out of California, Mack was heralded as the best college center in his draft. Mack was known in college for his physicality as well as his superior intellect and impeccable work-ethic. A winner of the Draddy Trophy, an award given to the NCAA's top scholar-athlete, Mack finished with a 3.61undergraduate GPA and completed graduate courses in education during his final year of eligibility for the Golden Bears. Mack was as decorated on the field as he was off-the-field, however. A three-time first-team All-Pac 10 selection, a finalist for the 2008 Rimington Trophy, awarded to college's top center, and a winner of the 2007 Morris Trophy, awarded to the Pac-10's best offensive lineman, Mack was certainly one of the more decorated offensive linemen to declare for the NFL Draft in years.
Cleveland, severely lacking in talent, traded back twice in the 2009 draft in order to acquire more draft picks as well as players. Mack was eventually taken with the 22nd pick and remains the lone player from his draft class still currently employed by the Cleveland Browns. It is worth noting that both Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman were taken with the picks Cleveland traded and neither of which currently starts in the NFL. As the old adage claims, "hindsight is 20/20" and Cleveland certainly made it's fair share of mistakes in that draft, passing up on players such as Percy Harvin, Clay Matthews, Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin, and Mike Wallace, yet the Browns can't be anything other than pleased with the production of their first round draft pick.
Mack is making $3.7 million in base salary this season, the final year of his contract, a mere pittance compared to some of the top centers in the league. Being voted to a second Pro Bowl in five years will undoubtedly raise his value. It also doesn't help matters that Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood, taken six picks after Mack in the 2009 Draft, signed a four-year $25.4 million dollar extension despite not being voted to a single Pro Bowl in his career.
While details of the negotiations haven't been released, it's safe to assume that Mack's looking for a contract similar to Wood's extension. However, judging by the lack of any sort of progress being made, it is within the realm of possibility that Mack is looking for a contract similar to Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil's 6 year/ $49 million extension in 2011 which made him the highest paid center in NFL history.
If Mack is firm on the higher end, he'll be looking for a new team come March. If not, well, that's a different story. Hopefully, for both Browns fans and Browns quarterbacks alike, there is a safe middle ground that can be reached and Mack will return to Cleveland for the foreseeable future.