Earlier today, it was reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter that Alex Mack has opted out of his contract and is set to become a free agent. But, he's potentially not opting out of his contract because he specifically wants to leave the Browns, as Ian Rapoport put it, "a return to Cleveland on a new contract is a real possibility".
While there is no guarantee that Mack will sign a contract with any team outside of Cleveland, no matter what, he is headed for a big payday that the Browns might not be able to compete with. They have the sixth most salary cap space in the NFL this year, estimated at roughly $47 million, by Spotrac. However, they also have 19 free agent contracts to deal with this offseason.
A high enough asking price from Mack could result in the team deciding to move on and his name being added to the list of the best available free agents.
Why the Bengals should consider him
It's no secret that the Bengals have a problem at center. Former fifth round pick, Russell Bodine, has consistently fallen short of expectations and significantly hurt the Bengals offense as a result of poor technique and simply being overpowered at the line of scrimmage. On top of that, don't forget about his errant snaps that were a problem in training camp. They seemed to have been fixed, for the most part during the season.
Mack was drafted by the Browns in 2009, a year when the Bengals were also looking to improve their offensive line. They chose to go with Andre Smith that year. As problematic as Smith has also been for the Bengals, none of the other offensive tackles from that draft class have particularly impressed either. In fact, Smith is the only one of the three offensive tackles drafted in the first round that year (Smith, Eugene Monroe, and Michael Oher) to have even been resigned after their rookie contract ran up.
However, the Bengals drafted two offensive lineman last year, so it's looking like the team can move on and no longer be held down by Smith's $6,000,000 cap hit. Mack made $8,000,000 in 2015 with the Browns, but centers in the NFL don't typically make much more than $9,000,000 per year.
It might require a long term commitment and, therefore, inflated amounts of money being committed, but given the amount of cap space the Bengals have, the 10th most per Spotrac and about $38.8 million, a play for Mack could be a realistic scenario. Regardless, there will certainly be a bidding war when it comes to Mack, and many center-needy teams are undoubtedly going to go after him. After all, it's not every day that a guy like Mack enters the free agency market.
Will the Bengals actually consider him?
Given the Bengals' history in free agency, preferring to draft and grow their own players and then re-sign them when the time comes, it's pretty unlikely that they'll actually make a play for a player who is likely to be very highly sought after. The team could really use his talents to help solidify a unit that gave up the second least sacks over the last two seasons (55), tied with the Arizona Cardinals and behind only the Baltimore Ravens (43). With a solid center in the middle, it would stand to reason that the Bengals could have the best offensive line in the NFL.
Still, there are other outlets that the Bengals could use to solidify their center position. As there has been no word from the Bengals' camp about looking for a new center, there's a pretty significant chance that they're not even planning to replace Bodine. Even if they were, they would probably look to the draft for a new center, rather than spend a bunch of money on a 30-year-old player who could hinder their ability to sign some of their priority free agents like Marvin Jones and Adam Jones.
At this point, it doesn't seem likely that the Bengals would be looking at Mack, as much as it could help the team. If they were to sign him, you could bet your last dollar that the team would need to move on from Smith as well as a few other free agents to make room for him. There's talent available in the draft, so they could look there instead without missing much of a beat on their roster. It's just not the Bengal way to go out and sign high profile veteran free agents, even if it could, and would, help the team.