Alex Mack has officially opted out of his contract with the Cleveland Browns, as first reported by Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports:
Browns C Alex Mack has voided the final 3 years of his deal, source says. Will be a free agent next week but return to CLE still possible.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 2, 2016
Mack had until March 4th to make a decision, but ended up doing so two days early. Why? Garafolo says it is so the team could not use a franchise or transition tag on him again -- the deadline in doing that passed at 4 PM ET on March 1st. As for why he's opting out on March 2nd instead of March 4th, if he's seeking the most lucrative offer possible, it makes sense to give the rest of the NFL a couple more days to include Mack in their free agency plans.
Despite opting out, Garafolo and others -- including ESPN's Adam Schefter -- are hearing that Mack could very well still return to Cleveland if they are willing to pay up to make him the highest-paid center in the NFL:
Alex Mack had 3 years, $24M remaining on deal and could once again become NFL's highest paid C. Return to Cleveland still "very possible."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 2, 2016
It makes sense for Mack to opt out because he only had $8 million guaranteed over the final three years of his deal. That means that a serious injury in 2016 could've cost him a ton of money in the long haul. Now, with a new deal in Cleveland or somewhere else, he'll get that financial security long-term again. If he's trying to beat deals that recent centers got, he might be seeking up to a 5-year, $50 million deal with half of it guaranteed.
Mack cannot sign a new deal until free agency begins on March 9th at 4 PM ET, when the new league year begins. He and the Browns can still work toward agreeing to terms on a new deal in the mean time, while other teams can begin negotiating with his agent on March 7th.