The Cleveland Browns have two elite free agents set to hit the open market this offseason, as center Alex Mack and strong safety T.J. Ward are two of the best players at their respective positions. Ward has been viewed as the priority for the Browns to re-sign for quite some time, but it looks like the tables have turned a bit in the thinking of the Browns front office, which probably has something to do with Ray Farmer being the new GM.
According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Browns now view Mack as their first priority to re-sign over Ward, and Rapoport believes this is a smart move, citing the fact that the Browns will be drafting a new quarterback this year.
Honestly, Ward and Mack should both be on an even playing field as far as priorities go, because this team really needs to keep both. Mack is one of the best centers in the league and is a solidifying presence in pass protection, so losing him would hurt the team’s interior blocking, which is already spotty. Joe Thomas is elite and Mitchell Schwartz should bounce back next year, but the Browns definitely need to do whatever they can (within reason, of course) to keep Mack around.
That said, strong safeties are more valuable than centers, and Ward is arguably the game’s best SS. He is solid in underneath coverage, and he plays the run better than a high amount of linebackers. Both will be hot commodities on the free agent market, so it makes sense to re-sign one of them and then tag the other in order to buy some time to get a deal done. By the looks of it, the Browns will try to get a long-term deal done with Mack first and then franchise Ward before working on his deal. At least, that’s how I think things will play out.