BEREA — Alex Mack is happy to be the highest-paid center in the NFL. Happy the venture into free agency is behind him. Happy to have a long-term contract, and the power to opt out after two years.
And, yes, happy to be a Brown.
Mack was back at Browns headquarters Monday. He went to a team meeting, participated in his first team-organized workout of the offseason and talked to reporters.
“It’s been a long road, and I’m absolutely happy with where I’m at,” he said. “I think everything worked out great, and I’m excited to move forward.”
Mack spent the last month in the NFL’s version of limbo. The Browns used the $10 million transition tag to try to prevent him from walking away as a free agent, but he still had the right to meet with other teams and work out a contact.
During the process, reports surfaced that the two-time Pro Bowler didn’t want to be in Cleveland.
“Something that’s real important to know is there’s a business side to football,” he said. “So when it comes out in stories or whatever else, it’s positioning. Business is business. All I can say is that I’m happy to be here, I’m excited to play football and I’m ready to work.”
Despite his wardrobe of shorts, a “Visit Alaska” T-shirt and flip-flops for his media session, Mack was serious about getting back to his job.
“I was here today working out and I have an offense to learn,” he said. “I have work to put in and I’m happy to be here and have teammates to hang out with.”
Mack’s desire to test the market was fueled by money and a tumultuous five-year tenure in Cleveland. The Browns lost at least 11 games every year, and Mike Pettine is his fourth coach.
He admitted the constant change has taken its toll.
“Absolutely. You don’t want to see change or turnover. It’s a lot going on,” he said. “(Owner) Jimmy Haslam did a great job of taking a lot of heat and changing around the building and making some moves, but it shows that he cares. It shows that he’s ready to take some heat to make decisions he thinks he needs to make. So that’s exciting.”
During the month of uncertainty, Haslam repeatedly said Mack’s the kind of player and person the Browns want in their organization for the long term. Haslam led a traveling party to California before free agency to try to convince Mack to sign a long-term deal.
Mack said no, but the visit made an impression.
“It was a really good trip,” he said. “To have them all show up and bring a real strong front, that was an exciting time and, you know, I was excited about where this building was going. But still there is a business side of things to handle.”
With that out of the way, Mack is focused on the potential of the Browns.
“I know the players that are on this team, I know the talent we had last year, I know how close we were and it was really exciting last year,” he said. “And it’s think about that, build upon that and then they came out and had a really good plan. They knew what they were talking about and there was a lot of excitement and fire.
“We have great players, I like where this offense is going and I think good things could happen here.”
Cleveland’s choice to use the transition tag rather than the $11.6 million franchise tag led to some tense moments for all parties involved. It also led to a desirable deal.
“I think I’m happy how things worked out, both sides have ... things are looking good,” Mack said.
Signing the one-year, $10 million transition tag was an option, but Mack wanted long-term security. He got it, and more control than most players.
The contract allows him to opt out after two years – and $18 million guaranteed -- and become an unrestricted free agent. He could choose to stay for the final three years, with another $8 million guaranteed in 2016.
“It gives me a lot of power as a player, which is exciting,” he said. “That’s something that may happen. It may not happen. Two years from now it’s a whole different story and you can ask that question then.”
The odds of him staying figure to increase if the Browns stick with a general manager and coach for more than a year, and make a jump in the standings.
“I’m here to win games,” Mack said. “I’m here to work hard. That’s what we’re all about. I think everybody wants some stability.”
His $8.4 million average per season for the five-year deal makes Mack the highest-paid center, surpassing Carolina’s Ryan Kalil at $8.186 million. He was asked if that’s a point of pride.
“I would say yes,” Mack said. “I’m excited about that.”
Before the saga of the last month, Mack had his annual offseason adventures. He traveled to Machu Picchu in Peru and worked a football camp with tight end Gary Barnidge in Brazil.
Then came a month of reports, rumors, speculation and, finally, resolution.
“I will say that I’m relieved that it’s behind me,” Mack said. “Uncertainty and where you’re going to be at, those kinds of things, it wears on you a bit. So I’m very happy to have it behind me and I’m excited to play football.”