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Career Windows: Alex Mack is anchoring the offensive line, but for how much longer?

How much longer does the big man in the middle have left with the Atlanta Falcons?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The 2013-15 nightmare Falcons fans had to live through in regard to the team’s center position made this fanbase incredibly appreciative of one of the most under-appreciated positions in all of football. When Alex Mack swooped in to save us from that nightmare of subpar play, the fanbase and organization became substantially appreciative of him as well.

Mack has already played a lifetime of football by average NFL standards — he’s a 10-year veteran who has started 149 career games within the teeth of the trenches. Three of those years have been spent in Atlanta, and have resulted in a symbiotic relationship of success for both Mack as a player and for the Atlanta Falcons as an organization.

Let’s take a deeper look at the current state of Javon Alexander Mack’s career, and see just how long his career window in Atlanta may be open for.

The Contract

Following three years of Peter Konz, Joe Hawley, and Mike Person manning the center position, the Falcons were desperate to find an upgrade in the 2016 offseason. That spring, general manager Thomas Dimitroff did something almost (not completely) unprecedented for him — he went after, and signed, the big fish of the free agent market.

Alex Mack hit the open market after seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns. In those seven years, he earned three Pro Bowl appearances, including one in 2015.

The Falcons enticed him to take his talents to Atlanta by selling him on the potential for greater on-field success than he saw as a Brown, continuity in the form of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s presence, and a 5 year/$45 million contract ($28.5 million guaranteed) which made him the highest-paid player at his position at the time of the signing.

We’re currently three years into that contract, and Mack just finished his age-33 season. The production has been there to completely justify and warrant the deal thus far (we’ll get to that soon), and the cap hit of $11,050,000 will stay the same this upcoming season before decreasing to $10,550,000 in 2020.

It seems like a very safe bet that Mack will play out the rest of that contract. Two years are left on it, and the team will most definitely not be parting ways with him this offseason, which would entail a $5.1 million dead cap hit.

In theory, if Mack’s production fell off a cliff this upcoming season and the team didn’t want to take that 2020 $10.5 million cap hit for a 34-year-old center, they could cut him for a savings of $8 million and a dead cap hit of $2.55 million. However, a seriously catastrophic season in Mack’s play as well as the team finding a sufficient replacement would be needed for that to happen, so don’t count on it.

The Production

Alex Mack has been everything the Falcons could have hoped for and more when they signed him.

I named Mack as the number four best offensive player of 2018 for the Falcons in my ongoing countdown. He’s easily one of the three most important players on offense for the team currently, and has been since he put on that red and black jersey.

Mack has been named to the Pro Bowl all three of his years as a Falcon, and continues to produce at an elite level at the center position. He also hasn’t missed a single game since arriving in Atlanta.

Pro Football Focus graded Mack out as the third-best center in Football and the 20th best overall offensive lineman with a 77.3 overall grade. He’s also the team’s most consistent pass blocker and run blocker with grades of 79.1 and 76.4 in those categories, making him the complete package as a center when you take his leadership and line-of-scrimmage adjustments into account as well.

Mack did take a step back from his first two seasons as a Falcon, in 2016 and 2017, when he had monstrous overall PFF marks of 90.8 and 90.6, respectively. The run blocking has stayed mostly in line with those two seasons, but his pass blocking dipped from 90.9 and 90.0 in 2016 and 2017, to that 76.4 grade last season.

Looking Ahead

Mack is still an elite center in the game, but age and wear-and-tear may unfortunately be beginning to catch up with him. He’ll be 35 when he hits unrestricted free agency in 2021. I’m just speculating here, but that may be the end of the line for him as a Falcon.

Going into 2019, however, he should still be a very solid anchor for the interior of the team’s offensive line. His high level of play as well as his contract gives the Falcons two more years to find a suitable replacement, who will no doubt have big shoes to fill.

Maybe Mack still has more than two years of solid play left in him, and comes to an understanding on a short-term contract with the Falcons after his current one expires. I’m sure that would make all of us very happy, but remember that the team’s last great center, Todd McClure, played out his final season as a Falcon at age 35 as well, before retiring (although in fairness, he probably still had one more good year left in him).

Enjoy Alex Mack while you can, Falcons fans, because the end of the line may be nearing for him. It’s my hope that the team doesn’t procrastinate in finding his heir apparent, because we may be two years and one bad decision away from re-living the 2013 center position nightmare all over again.