VALLEY VIEW: Even though transition-tagged Pro Bowl center Alex Mack paid a visit to the Jacksonville Jaguars this past weekend and has continued talks with the franchise, his closest friend on the Browns is convinced Mack will return to Cleveland for next season.
“There’s no doubt that he’ll be here at least this year,” Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said Tuesday night at a Cinemark theater before an advance screening of Draft Day, the Browns- and NFL-themed film set to open nationwide Friday. “I think that’s for certain. I certainly hope we can sign him to a long-term deal and keep him here for much longer than I am here.”
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is determined to keep Mack.
“We remain optimistic that Alex Mack will be a Cleveland Brown for a long time,” Haslam said. “We want him to be. I think we’ve made it very clear that he’s the kind of person, the kind of player we want in our organization.”
If the Jaguars sign Mack to an offer sheet, the Browns would have five day to match it and secure Mack under the terms established his lead agent, Marvin Demoff, and Jacksonville’s front office.
Asked if he’s prepared to match anything the Jaguars might offer, Haslam smiled and said, “We want Alex to be a Cleveland Brown.”
Mack, 28, is in position to become the highest-paid center in the NFL.
If he signs the transition tag that the Browns placed on him last month after the two sides failed to reach a long-term deal, he’ll be locked into a one-year, $10.039 million deal that would make him the highest-paid player at his position by about $2 million.
If Mack signs an offer sheet, it’ll undoubtedly trump the six-year, $49 million contract Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil signed in 2011 in terms of its worth per year. Kalil’s deal includes $28 million guaranteed and an $18 million signing bonus.
The bottom line is the Browns have the means to win a bidding war for Mack. They have $30.8 million in salary-cap space, most in the league, according to the NFL Players Association. The Jaguars have 25.1 million, ranking third in the NFL.
So Mack signing the transition tag, returning to the Browns for another season and trying to test free agency next year remains the most likely scenario. It’s also what Thomas essentially predicted when he said there’s no doubt Mack will be back with the Browns in 2014.
Thomas admitted he has been in contact with Mack but wouldn’t get into what mindset his buddy has about his contract situation.
“That’s a great question,” said Thomas, who’s under contract with the Browns through 2018. “I talk to him, but just as a friend. I know that business is business, so I don’t try to get in between that side of things.”
None of Mack’s teammates has control over the situation, but they’re crossing their fingers and hoping it works out well for the Browns.
“We’re all just hoping it gets resolved soon and he’s back,” Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “Obviously, we have a new system to learn, and he’s the anchor of that offensive line. So we’re hoping that gets resolved soon, and obviously, as a player, you know guys have to do what’s best for them. But also I think having Alex is huge for our offense and his veteran leadership along with Joe on the offensive line. Learning a new system, a center is usually a big part of certain calls and things like that, so we’re hoping Alex gets back here soon and things get worked out.”
Still ahead of schedule
For several months, Hoyer had been itching to throw to receivers instead of athletic trainers as he rehabilitated from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his right knee in October. Hoyer’s wish came true when the team’s voluntary offseason workout program started Monday.
“[I’m] ahead of schedule and still working hard,” Hoyer said. “Now it’s been good to get back around the guys and go out and throw routes with those guys and do some of the running with those guys.”
Hoyer is delighted with the addition of receivers Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson. The Browns have been aggressive this offseason, signing eight free agents to trim their list of needs heading into the May 8-10 draft.
“It sends [a message] that we’re not in rebuilding mode,” Hoyer said. “We’re looking to win as soon as possible.”
Another new coach
Thomas was shocked when the Browns fired coach Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 after just one season on the job.
“It was tough,” Thomas said. “Obviously, we’ve had some time since that happened, and I’m able to get over it.”
Thomas has witnessed turnover at an alarming rate since the Browns drafted him third overall in 2007. Mike Pettine is his fifth head coach.
The players who hadn’t met Pettine earlier this offseason did so when they reported to workouts Monday.
“The things that I’ve seen from Coach Pett and the new staff that they brought in, I’m happy about,” Thomas said. “I’ve had a chance to talk to him a little bit, and I really like the things that he’s selling so far.”
Ready to rush
Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard has merely received an introduction to Pettine’s 3-4, hybrid scheme thus far, but Sheard believes he’ll receive more chances to rush the passer and have fewer coverage responsibilities in the new defense.
“I’m more of a rusher type, hopefully less dropping [into coverage] this year, getting a little bit more chance to rush,” Sheard said. … [Pettine] tells me I play aggressive, and that’s what he likes about me. I play every play hard. He seems excited about me, seems excited about the things he can do with me.”
Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron believes he’ll receive plenty of opportunities to build on his breakout 2013 season in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system.
“He’s shown that he uses the tight end a lot and puts him in different positions to succeed,” Cameron said. “So I’m excited. We’ll know more as the season and as OTAs progress. But the history of his offense, the tight end has been a prominent player.
“[Shanahan is an] innovative guy. He’s been doing it for a while. [I’m] excited to work with someone that knows what they’re doing and is confident in what they’re doing. It’s going to be a good year.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.