VALLEY VIEW — The visit with the Jacksonville Jaguars by free agent center Alex Mack hasn’t changed the outlook of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
“We remain optimistic that Alex Mack will be a Cleveland Brown for a long time,” Haslam said Tuesday night before the Cleveland premiere of “Draft Day,” a fictional movie about the Browns. “We want him to be. I think we’ve made it very clear that he’s the kind of person, the kind of player we want in our organization.”
Mack was in Jacksonville on Friday and had dinner with Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. He left Saturday without an offer, but reportedly remained in negotiations.
Because the Browns placed the $10 million transition tag on Mack, they would have five days to match any offer sheet the two-time Pro Bowler signs with another team.
Haslam smiled when asked if the Browns are prepared to match anything Jacksonville could offer Mack.
“We want Alex to be a Cleveland Brown,” he said, then thanked the group of reporters and walked away on the orange carpet.
Haslam led a traveling party of Browns executives and coaches to California to meet with Mack before the start of free agency. The goal was to reach agreement on a long-term contract, but it didn’t happen.
The Browns’ contingent returned to Berea and used the $10 million transition tag with the goal of keeping Mack and working out a multiyear deal. Talks have reportedly continued, but Mack has made it known he’s interested in testing the market and isn’t comfortable with the constant change during his five years in Cleveland.
At the end of last season, All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas said the Browns couldn’t afford to lose Mack because they wouldn’t be able to replace him. Thomas believes Mack is staying put, despite the flirtation with the Jaguars.
“There’s no doubt that he’ll be here at least this year,” Thomas said Tuesday. “I think that’s for certain. I certainly hope we can sign him to a long-term deal and keep him here for much longer than I am here.”
The Browns added receivers Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson and running back Ben Tate to the offense in free agency. Losing Mack would stop much of that momentum.
“Obviously we’ve made it kind of evident how important Alex is to this team and whether it’s talking with Joe or talking with some of the other players, we’re all just hoping it gets resolved soon and he’s back,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “Obviously we have a new system to learn and he’s the anchor of that offensive line, so we’re hoping that gets resolved soon. Obviously as a player, you know guys have to do what’s best for them, but also I think having Alex is huge for our offense and his veteran leadership along with Joe on the offensive line.”
Thomas was upset when coach Rob Chudzinski was fired on the final day of the season. He was a big supporter of Chudzinski and believed the team was headed in the right direction.
“It was tough. Obviously we’ve had some time since that happened and I’m able to get over it,” Thomas said.
The offseason program under new coach Mike Pettine began Monday, and Thomas likes what he’s seen and heard.
“I’m excited about the staff that they have brought in,” he said. “The things that I’ve seen from Coach Pett and the new staff that they brought in, I’m happy about.
“We’ve only had a couple days. But I’ve had a chance to talk to him a little bit and I really like the things that he’s selling so far.”
Tight end Jordan Cameron met Pettine for the first time Monday.
“He’s a stand-up guy,” Cameron said. “He’s pretty straightforward, pretty honest in what he was telling us. He’s pretty black and white and I like that about him.”
For Haslam, having the team back in the building signals the start of a new season.
“It’s great to have everybody back,” he said. “The excitement in the building today with the new coaching staff and some of the player additions we’ve had plus our players from last year. It’s an exciting time. I just talked to about 10 of the guys upstairs. We’re excited and ready to go.”
GO GET ’EM
Outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard is on his third defense in three years, and his early impression is he’ll do more attacking the quarterback and less dropping in coverage.
“With the pass rushers we’ve got, me, (Barkevious) Mingo, Krug (Paul Kruger), all those guys, (Pettine) seems creative in what he does and find a way to get us all on the field together and get our sack total up,” Sheard said. “It’s becoming a passing conference, so if we get sacks, I can see us winning some games.”
Pettine has spoken highly of Sheard and his ability to rush the passer.
“He tells me I play aggressive and that’s what he likes about me,” Sheard said. “I play every play hard. He seems excited about me, seems excited about the things he can do with me. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Sheard described the system of Pettine and coordinator Jim O’Neil as a hybrid of 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.
“He wants the defense to get sacks and get good penetration up the field,” Sheard said. “He’s all about attacking the O-line before they can get to you.”
The Cleveland premiere of “Draft Day” brought out Haslam, several players, the screenwriters and a couple of the actors. Mayor Frank Jackson also walked the orange carpet and stopped to talk to reporters.
“We’re excited about the movie,” Haslam said. “I think it’s great for the Cleveland Browns brand, and I think it brings great excitement to the city of Cleveland. So I think it’s a real win-win and we were pleased to be able to participate.”
Hoyer grew up in North Olmsted and appreciated such an event being so close to home.
“Usually it’s in L.A. or New York, so to have something like this in Cleveland and obviously the movie being about the Browns is very cool and special,” he said.