Pro Bowl center Alex Mack wants to remain with Browns

By Tom Withers | Associated Press Published:

By Tom Withers | Associated Press

BEREA -- Alex Mack's five seasons in Cleveland have been challenging -- to put it mildly.

The steady center has endured almost constant losing, seemingly endless coaching and quarterback turnover, front-office upheaval, even an ownership change. It's been tumultuous.

But with so many reasons to leave, Mack, eligible for free agency this winter, said he wouldn't mind staying.

Really? Here?

"Cleveland is a very easy place to come back to," Mack said Friday. "I like the coaches. I like the players. I have a house here. So without a doubt it would be very easy to come back."

There's no guarantee that Mack, who has never missed a snap with the Browns, will return. And as he prepared for Sunday's game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, he considered that his days in Cleveland could be down to a precious few.

He's not alone, either. Starting strong safety T.J. Ward and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson face uncertain futures, too.

Earlier this week, Ward, also poised for free agency, said he wants to finish what he started.

"I like my team. I love my teammates. I love being in this city. I love the organization," said Ward, who has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season. "We haven't had many wins, but I think we're building something here, and I think it's being built the right way. Sometimes things don't happen right away. It takes a little bit of time, but good things are worth the wait in a lot of cases.

"We're starting to build something," he said.

Jackson, too, wants to remain with the only NFL team he has known. But the eight-year veteran is due a $4.1 million roster bonus in March, and because he'll be 31 next season, there's a chance the Browns may decide he's not worth the investment.

Jackson can't imagine going anywhere.

"I'm stuck to Cleveland, it's going to be hard to go somewhere else and play," he said. "I know it's the nature of the business, things may change and I'm fully aware of that. Right now, I'm a Cleveland Brown through and through."

The Browns, who carry a six-game losing streak into the finale, will enter the offseason with major decisions. Near the top of the list are the futures of Mack, Ward and Jackson -- unquestionably three core players.

Mack has not only been durable -- he's started all 79 games since he was drafted in 2009 -- but the 28-year-old has developed into one of the NFL's top centers.

Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas hopes the Browns appreciate Mack's value.

"He's one of the best centers in the NFL, and if we don't bring him back, now we have a big hole to fill at center, which is one of the most important positions on the offensive line," said Thomas, adding that Mack's intellect may be his biggest strength. "He has to be one of the best in the NFL at understanding the mental side of the game and getting everybody on the same page blocking wise."

FIVE BROWNS SELECTED FOR PRO BOWL

Five members of the Cleveland Browns were selected to represent the AFC squad in the Pro Bowl, which will be played Sunday, Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. The Browns' Pro Bowl selections are Mack, cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Jordan Cameron, wide receiver Josh Gordon and left tackle Joe Thomas.

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