By Daryl Ruiter | 92.3 The Fan

CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Alex Mack is going to hit the open market and become the highest paid center in the NFL.

As expected, Mack has opted out of the final 3 years and $24 million left on his contract. The 3-time Pro Bowl center had until 4 p.m. Friday to do so.

Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said last week in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine that he had hoped to restructure Mack’s deal before such a decision was made.

“My estimation would be if he’s going to be in Cleveland we’ll get to a deal before his opt-out date,” Brown said.

Mack met with Brown and head coach Hue Jackson in Berea prior to the combine.

“We had good discussions, both Hue and I separately with Alex about how we go about winning in Cleveland and what his role would be in that,” Brown said last Thursday. “Alex is obviously a very talented center, been a stalwart on our offensive line for a long time.”

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After the season Mack, who started the first 85 games and didn’t miss a single snap – a span of 5,279 snaps – before breaking his leg against the Steelers on Oct. 12, 2015, said that “winning is important” to him. Since he was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft, the Browns have gone 29-72 with him on the field.

In 2014, after the Browns placed the transition tag on him, Mack agreed to a 5 year, $42 million contract, including $18 million guaranteed with an opt-out clause after the first 2 years, with the Jacksonville Jaguars that the Browns almost immediately matched.

The Browns selected Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving with the No. 19 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, presumably to as an insurance policy against the loss of Mack to injury or free agency.

Erving struggled as a rookie and his role on the field goal protect team came into question because 4 kicks were blocked. He played in all 16 games and started 2 games apiece at right and left guard in 2015.

Teams can begin negotiating with Mack on March 7 but a contract can’t be signed until March 9th.

The Browns will enter free agency with approximately $40 million in salary cap space entering the new league year on March 9.

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