Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Blame it on Rio: Negotiations aimed at keeping Browns Pro Bowl center Alex Mack off the free agent market won’t begin until Mack returns from a humanitarian trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the end of the month, his agent told ESPN Cleveland.
That will leave the Browns less than two weeks to get a deal done before the start of free agency on March 11.
While the Browns had at least two sets of negotiations with Mack and agent Marv Demoff in 2013, nothing has transpired since October – when the sides couldn’t arrive at a dollar figure and were off by a year on length of a deal. The Browns wanted a five-year contract; Mack initially wanted three years and then agreed to four, said another source familiar with the talks.
They agreed to revisit negotiations in January. But those plans were interrupted when the Browns abruptly changed coaches in January and then made an even more unexpected front-office shakeup in February.
Now Mack has a lot of questions about the future direction of the team, Demoff told ESPN Cleveland.
Negotiations will not restart until Mack gets them answered in face-to-face meetings when he returns from Brazil, where he has conducted football clinics with Browns teammates Gary Barnidge, Jordan Cameron, Barkevious Mingo and Johnson Bademosi.
Getting to know you: Demoff told ESPN Cleveland: “I think the most important thing is Alex really would want to meet the (new) coaches. He was pretty close to (former offensive line coach George) Warhop, and liked (former head coach Rob) Chudzinski. Everything he had in Cleveland is changed. Warhop was a constant for five years. He’s gone. There’s a different head coach, different offensive coordinator, different offensive line coach.
“If you’re looking at this from an intelligent point of view, there’s more to it than money. You have to believe in what you’re doing. I want Alex first to be able to sign off and say I’m fine with all the changes and where they’re headed.”
Since the season ended, Chudzinski has been replaced by Mike Pettine, Warhop has been replaced by Andy Moeller and offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been replaced by Kyle Shanahan.
“The thing that Cleveland has most going for it,” Demoff said, “is Alex really wants to play in a place where football is really important. He’s loved that about Cleveland. And he’s always been excited about being a part of building something that eventually wins. There has just been false starts and stops in Cleveland.
“Alex was real excited when they were 4-5 (in 2013). And that was roughly the time he really wanted to be in Cleveland and they turned his numbers down. Alex’s numbers were rejected and at that point it was tabled until after the season.”
Most of the talks last year were conducted by Sashi Brown, executive vice president/legal counsel, on behalf of former CEO Joe Banner. While it was commonly believed that Banner did not place a high value on the position of center – and that attitude may have impeded a new deal – Demoff said that was not the case.
“I think that’s unfair,” Demoff said. “Joe probably had a number in mind for Alex and he believed his numbers were where he wanted to be. I think he looked at Alex as more than a position. I think they honestly believed Alex was a leader, had high character, and besides just being a player he was someone who they wanted to represent the franchise. If all those things didn’t exist, I don’t think Joe valued a center like a tackle. But in fairness to Joe, he always was nothing but complimentary to Alex. I never got any impression that he didn’t value Alex.
“Alex has felt respected and valued by the Browns. That’s never been a question of his, before or now.”
Going forward: After lengthy discussions involving Pettine, new GM Ray Farmer, and owner Jimmy Haslam, the Browns are anxious to resume talks with Demoff and Mack.
Applying the franchise tag on Mack – both sides agree – is not a smart move. The franchise figure for all offensive linemen – centers, as well as tackles – is about $11 million. That’s a prohibitive number for a center. Playing one year at that salary figure would not result in a long-term deal.
Demoff said he doesn’t think the constant change in coaches and front office regimes is a deal-breaker with Mack.
“I really think not,” he said. “I think that the most appropriate thing is to give the people there the opportunity to explain what happened, but also, most importantly, where they’re going and what they see ahead and whether that meshes with what Alex thinks. I’ve told him, and I think he’s totally willing to do it, to have a total open mind, start with a clean slate and see where it goes.”
Mack not only is by far the best center in free agency but easily in the top five of all offensive linemen available starting March 11. Still, Demoff said that Mack has not mentally committed to going through the free agency process.
“During the season, he was playing football with the Browns. When he was negotiating in October, he was negotiating a long-term deal for the Browns. Once that didn’t happen, he put it aside. He didn’t put a circle on March 11 on his calendar,” Demoff said.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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