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Center of attention

Mack speaks out about contract negotiations

April 15, 2014
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle ( , Tribune Chronicle

CLEVELAND - You know it's a slow time in the NFL when a center receives most of the attention.

It's not like basketball or hockey, where centers command the largest of salaries and monopolize the headlines. Football centers are primarily mentioned when they do something wrong. Just ask Manny Ramirez, whose high snap to Peyton Manning on Denver's first play from scrimmage in the Super Bowl signaled an epic meltdown by the Broncos.

For most of last week, Browns center Alex Mack found out what life is like for players at the more heralded positions. The story surrounding the five-year offer sheet he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Browns' resulting decision to match it put Mack in the forefront of the NFL news cycle.

Normally Mack makes news by what he does during one of his exotic offseason trips. This year he found time to visit Peru and Brazil, teaching young kids on the Brazilian trip.

As the highest-paid center in the NFL, Mack won't have trouble handling the finances of future world travels. He's locked into the Browns for the next two seasons at a guaranteed $18 million.

What happens beyond that is uncertain, even to Mack, who talked to reporters Monday while in town for offseason conditioning. He likes the moves made by owner Jimmy Haslam since the tumultuous period shortly after the season when coach Rob Chudzinski, general manager Michael Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner were fired. Now he has to see a period of stability, which hasn't happened in Cleveland for decades.

"Absolutely (it's worn on me)," said Mack of the changes he's witnessed since arriving as a first-round draft choice in 2009. "Jimmy Haslam did a great job of taking a lot of heat and making some changes around the building.

"It shows that he cares; that he's ready to take some heat to make the decisions he thinks he needs to make. That's exciting and a good way to look at things."

Mack said all the right things about being excited to be staying with the Browns, but there was a feeling he would have said the same thing to the Jacksonville media if the Browns hadn't matched the offer. Mack is the closest thing to a free spirit in the locker room. He can be comfortable wherever he wakes up, whether in South America on a vacation or in any of the 32 NFL cities.

"Jacksonville brought me out, and I had a really good visit," Mack said. "I signed a contract and would have been happy with either way it went. It's a tough part of the game, but I'm happy with how it's worked out."

The Browns had to match the offer, if for no reason other than to show they're not content to allow an outstanding player in his prime leave town. Armed with plenty of salary-cap space, the front office needed just a few hours to secure Mack's services for at least two more seasons.

Haslam, who's spent much of the offseason defending major decisions, couldn't afford to send more disturbing news to the fans. That's why he joined coach Mike Pettine, general manager Ray Farmer and other team officials on a trip to Mack's home in California to convince him that times are changing for the better in Cleveland.

"It was exciting," Mack said. "They came out there and talked football and got to know me a bit, and I got to know them. We left that meeting with some discussions happening."

Mack followed a long, twisting path in returning to the same place he left nearly four months ago.



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