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2014 NFL Draft: Cleveland Browns Should Target a Center as Insurance for Alex Mack
With all of the focus being placed on who the Cleveland Browns will select in the 2014 NFL Draft and the free agents they have signed, many have forgotten about the ongoing saga with Pro Bowl center, Alex Mack. Though temporarily solved with the placement of a transition tag worth $10 million for the 2014 season, general manager Ray Farmer better have a backup plan in place.
While Mack will ultimately sign the one-year tag since it appears no team on the open market is willing to give him a long-term deal the Browns won’t match at this time, Farmer and the Browns front office need to start planning for their future at the position—whether that includes Mack or not. Even though most fans do not want to hear it, there is a very real possibility—especially if the Browns do not produce a winner in 2014—the team could choose to part ways with a player who seemingly is frustrated with losing and constant change in the coaching ranks.
Very much like the Buffalo Bills did this season with Jairus Byrd, the Browns could choose to let Mack walk next year in free agency if he makes it completely clear he will not sign a long-term deal. Because let’s face it, $10 million for a center for one season is already an insanely high amount compared to the rest of the league, and the Browns aren’t going to pay him even more than that next season for one more year.
Replacing Mack with options on the roster is not going to happen. There is not one player on the roster capable of doing the job the former first-round draft pick has done since coming out in the 2009 NFL Draft. He has been the center of the Browns line since day one, racking up two Pro Bowl appearances, a Second-team All-Pro honor in 2013 and an NFL All-Rookie Team award in the process.
For the reason of his replacement not being on the roster, the Browns need to target a future starter in the 2014 NFL Draft with one of their 10 picks.
Though it may seem like a “wasted” pick to many, there are a number of centers who are versatile enough to provide depth at a number of positions this season who would be excellent choices as an insurance policy if the team cannot ink Mack to a long-term deal during or after the season. The following are just a couple of names to keep your eye on in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
Standing 6’5” and 312 pounds, Swanson comes from the toughest division in all of college football, the SEC. Swanson is known most for his ability to pull in the run game and his nasty, mean streak as a blocker—two things the Browns are going to be in dire need of thanks to new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, installing his zone blocking scheme. He is also experienced at calling audibles at the line of scrimmage and alerting other linemen of potential assignment changes, something the Browns would desperately need if Mack walks.
The Razorback was a 4-year starter in college and can play both the guard and center position at the NFL level. He has solid weight distribution when on the line, which allows him to take on powerful rushers without giving up leverage and allowing them into the backfield to collapse the pocket. He is currently projected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, so the Browns would likely have to use one of their two selections to land him.
Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State
Coming from the spread-attack of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the 6’3” and 296-pound Linsley is much more than a one system type of blocker. He excelled in what was both a gap blocking scheme and a zone blocking scheme during his time at Ohio State, proving he can both run and pass block with the best of them.
Some worry that Linsley was a “sum of his parts” with the excellent offensive line he was a part of at Ohio State, and that his weaknesses will be exposed when he does not have their solid unit around him. However, after watching him play the position for a number of years this is not the case, as he has the foot quickness and strength to hold his own on the line. With a sixth to seventh round projection on him in this year’s draft, the Browns will find instant line depth with the possibility of developing into a starter down the line in this Buckeye.
Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State
Coming out of the MWC, not many people know about Larsen—but the 6’4” and 313-pound physical specimen could come out and shock some people early in his NFL career. With the ability to play guard on top of center, he should have a spot right away thanks to his strength (posted 36 reps in the bench press), quick feet and ability to seal defenders off no matter what the blocking scheme.
Some are worried about his arm size giving up leverage on the interior of the line to stronger defenders, but his solid core and strength should be able to combat this issue. He is coming off a knee injury which cost him the majority of his season, but if everything checks out okay he could be a nice find in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
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