The centerpiece of the Browns' offense finally returned on Tuesday.
Following over seven months of rehab, the 6'4, 312 pound All-Pro wore Orange and Brown once again in Berea during the first day of OTAs. But Alex Mack's triumphant return wasn't the story of the afternoon.
After practice concluded, reporters swarmed the veteran. Within the first minute and a half of the interview, the words, "...What if Alex Mack leaves after this season?" leaked out of a reporter's mouth, echoing the thoughts of Browns fans. A non-answer to this inquiry prompted a follow-up question about his contract, to which Mack responded, "Defer," grinning as he answered.
Mack spoke first about his injury and new Browns center Cameron Erving, but his deflection of contract talk captured the conversation.
#Browns C Alex Mack said "absolutely not" when asked if he has decided whether he'll opt out of contract after 2015 season.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) May 26, 2015
C Alex Mack defers discussing that he can opt out of contract until after season, but said he does not know what he’ll do. #Browns— PatMcManamon (@PatMcManamon) May 26, 2015
In his article on Mack, The Morning Journal's Jeff Schudel opened with a question Browns fans and media will ask a lot this season: "Will he stay or will he go?"
Nevermind that head coach Mike Pettine called Mack "ready to go." The narrative has already shifted towards Mack's status in 2016.
Mack seems steadfast in his desire to wait until season's end to announce his conclusion. As he told the media, "Let's play the games, let's see how the season goes. I'm really not interested in talking about that."
Physically, Mack seems to be almost ready to play the games. As fellow offensive lineman John Greco said today, "He’s kind of shattered expectations." Pettine spoke further on Mack's development, stating, "It’s to no one’s surprise that he’s back, and he’ll be full go for training camp."
The Browns are still taking it easy with Mack, sending him to the sidelines for 11-on-11 drills during OTAs. But as Pettine stated today, Mack could go if necessary.
Mack's injury is vanquished, but questions about 2016 are not. Speculation and analysis of Mack's decision already abound. Cleveland.com's Mark Kay Cabot wrote today that "winning will be a factor." Teammate Joe Thomas said in early April: "I wouldn't be surprised if he decides to opt out and become a free agent at the end of the year."
Will Mack come back in 2016? No one knows. All Browns fans can do is enjoy watching Mack in 2015.