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Free Agent Spotlight: Center, Alex Mack

Could the Bucs look at a division rival to change up the offensive line?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We continue to take a look at the pending free agents in preparation of the new league year beginning on St. Patrick’s Day. For the Buccaneers, they have some tough business decisions ahead of them and need to free up cap space to bring back their big time pending free agents.

That could also mean sending some current players packing and replacing them with less expensive, but serviceable players. Today we take a look across the NFC South to a free agent that still has some fight left in him - Alex Mack.

Alex Mack’s Career Thus Far

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Mack was a first round pick back in the 2009 NFL Draft, chosen 21st overall to the Cleveland Browns. Once he joined the team, he was a dominant force to anchor the interior of their offensive line. He started 101 out of a possible 112 games, missing eleven in 2014 due to a broken fibula. Mack was so impactful, that following the 2014 season - which he played under the transition tag - the Jacksonville Jaguars offered him a five year deal worth $42-million dollars. The Browns were able and willing to match the offer, keeping him in Cleveland.

However, there was an out for Mack in the deal which he exercised in 2016, sending him into free agency. He signed a five year, $45-million dollar deal with the Atlanta Falcons. In his first year with the Falcons they made it to Super Bowl LI where they would lose to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Mack missed the final two games of 2020 - the first ones he missed since that broken fibula in 2014 - due to a concussion.

Why It Works

Mack is another mauler in the interior of the line. He’s been one of the best, most consistent centers in the NFL since the day he was drafted. Lining up in-between Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa, Mack could certainly continue his high level of play on an already solid offensive line.

Mack isn’t just reliable in terms of playing week in and week out, he’s also one of the fewest penalized linemen you’ll find. In 179 career starts, Mack has just 40 total penalties. The guy dominates the player lined up across from him while not costing his team precious yardage in the process.

Mack’s familiarity with the NFC South is also a bonus. These are defensive linemen he’s faced six times a year for the last five years as well as the players he’s gone head-to-head with in practice every day. It would be a smooth transition going from a high-octane, pass happy offense in Atlanta and protecting Matt Ryan to sliding into the same role in front of Brady. The Falcons are no stranger to the deep pass and buying their quarterback plenty of time - so we know Mack could take the challenge head on.

But...

The Bucs have a center. In fact, they have a pretty darn good one in Ryan Jensen. Jensen joined the Bucs in 2018, signing a four year, $42-million dollar deal. Jensen had a career high eleven penalties in his first year with the Bucs but has just seven over the last two years.

In fact, you’ve seen Jensen push the limit to the very edge and create such animosity from his opponents that he often gets hit after the whistle, giving his team a free fifteen yards. Jensen is the kind of center that you want on your team because he’s not only great at his job but you know he’ll rip a guy’s head off if it means protecting your quarterback.

Here’s the problem;

Jensen is due $10-million dollars in 2021 and for the first time in his contract with the Bucs, there’s no dead money if they move on from him. If they think they can save some cap space for another player by letting Jensen go and bringing in a guy - like Mack - that’s something they have to consider.

For instance, the most money Mack was guaranteed in a year with the Falcons was $8.5-million dollars and that was in years three and four of the deal. Now, he made $13.25-million in year one but $11.5 of that was a signing bonus which we know the Bucs don’t really do. It may be reasonable to expect Mack to sign somewhere for less than $10-million a year. With the pending free agents and the Bucs’ cap situation, every little bit helps.

What’s the Cost?

Well, I touched on that in the previous section, but again - it’s safe to assume that the 35 year old center out of Cal won’t command a double-digit salary on an annual basis. Mack would fall to fourteenth on the list of highest paid centers in the NFL based off his 2020 salary. He would likely sign somewhere in that same range. The drop off from thirteenth (Jason Kelce - $8.166-million) to fourteenth (Trey Hopkins - $6.8-million) would likely be where Mack fell.

My guess would be Mack signs somewhere on a two to three year deal with an AAV of around $7.5-million a year.

Again, that’s an estimated $2.5-million savings on what they would be paying Jensen.

What We Don’t Know

For starters, we don’t know if Jensen is the kind of player that the Bucs would want to move on from, even if it does save them a few million bucks. As I’ve said, Jensen is the kind of center everyone wants on their team and the Bucs’ brass may feel like he’s a bargain even at $10-million for this year.

We also don’t know if Jensen is a player they want to extend and could perhaps save some money for 2021 that way. Jensen is in the final year of his deal with the Bucs and could be looking to stay beyond that. Giving him a three or four year extension and reallocating some of his 2021 salary to 2022 or 2023 isn’t out of the question - nor is it something he would be likely to turn down if it meant getting a chance to bring some teammates back and make another championship run.

Finally, we don’t know the relationship between Mack and the Falcons. They may get something worked out before he even has the chance to hit free agency. He’s a vital part of their offensive line and with the coaching change the Falcons may want to keep as many of their key players as possible - especially on the offensive side of the ball which didn’t have nearly as many issues as the defensive side of the ball.

Ultimately, it seems unlikely that the Bucs move on from Jensen, but if they’re desperate to save on the cap then Mack could be a solid alternative.

Make The Decision

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

So, what are your thoughts? Would it be a downgrade to move on from Jensen and go after Mack? Or should the Bucs stand pat, knowing that Jensen is one of the best centers in the NFL and he has done a great job for them since 2018? Let us know in the poll and comment section below!

Poll

When It Comes To Alex Mack, What Would You Have The Buccaneers Do?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Sign Him, No Matter What
    (2 votes)
  • 14%
    Make An Offer, But Keep It Reasonable
    (37 votes)
  • 12%
    Invite Him For A Cup Of Coffee And See Where It Goes From There
    (34 votes)
  • 12%
    Call Him Up If They Have A Need After The Draft
    (34 votes)
  • 59%
    Nope. Don’t Need Him
    (156 votes)
263 votes total Vote Now