According to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, Alex Mack will hit the open market and opt out of the five-year contract he received in 2014. While it doesn't guarantee the end of Mack's time with the Cleveland Browns, the team will have to open up the pocketbooks if it hopes for a reunion with the 2009 first-round pick.
The deadline for Mack to officially exercise his player option to opt out was March 4.
Mack, 30, has an odd contract situation with the Browns after the team placed the transition tag on him in 2014 instead of the franchise tag. It opened the door for the Jacksonville Jaguars to offer a five-year, $42 million deal to Mack that Cleveland had the option to match.
But because the Browns would have the option to match any offer made by the Jaguars, the contract was written by Jacksonville with as many traps as possible so that it would be unfriendly for Cleveland. It didn't work and the Browns immediately matched the offer, but after $18 million guaranteed in the first two seasons of the five-year deal, Mack was left with a three-year, $24 million contract in the last three seasons.
With Mike Pouncey receiving a five-year, $44.75 million contract from the Miami Dolphins in the 2015 offseason, it didn't make sense for Mack to settle for $8 million per year when the open market would certainly treat him better and possibly push his annual salary over $10 million.
In free agency, Mack is almost certainly going to become the NFL's highest-paid center ever, which is a mark currently held by Pouncey. It's still possible that he could have a reunion with the Browns, though.
The Browns have plenty of cap space to work with, and according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Mack is enthused with the direction the team is headed with Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta now leading the way.
"I mean, it was good to leave the season, take some time off and let that all shake out," Mack told Around The NFL on Thursday. "Really happy they got everything handled early and they found their guy. They're getting a staff together quickly. It's going in the right direction."
To keep Mack, the Browns will have to outbid a field of teams that will likely be very interested in a 30-year-old center who is among the best in the NFL at his position. Mack started 16 games for the Browns in 2015 and earned the Ed Block Courage Award after missing 11 games in 2014 due to a broken fibula that required surgery to repair.
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