Cover 9@9: Center Alex Mack weighing his options

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Todd Gurley, Alex Mack among the dozen or so Atlanta Falcons 2020 free agents on offense.

1. The No Spin Zone: Center Alex Mack, who helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI, plans to play in the 2021 season and will weigh all options, according to a personal familiar with the situation.

Mack had a rough end to the 2020 season. He missed the 15th game with a concussion and was on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the final game of the season.

Mack was signed to a five-year, $45 million contract in 2016. He started every game that season and played in the Super Bowl with a broken fibula.

The Falcons’ new administration is evaluating the roster, but the team is in a bad salary-cap situation. The previous regime drafted former Temple center Matt Hennessy in the third round last season.

Mack, one of the top centers in the NFL, has played 12 seasons and was selected to six Pro Bowls and named All-Pro three times.

ExploreRate the Falcons’ 2020 offense

Before facing the Falcons last season, then-Detroit coach Matt Patricia was asked about Mack.

“Obviously, you’re talking about a long journey here going to a 12-year (veteran), a guy that ... you know of my affinity for the offensive line, the offensive line play and certainly the center position,” Patricia said. “I just think he is phenomenal in what he’s been able to do through his career. One of the things about him that is so amazing, and I have the utmost respect is for how tough that he is. This guy is a tough, tough guy.”

Patricia was New England’s defensive coordinator in Super Bowl LI, when Mack played through the game on the broken fibula that he injured in the NFC Championship game win over the Green Bay Packers.

“He’s played through so many different things,” Patricia said. “Even the last time when we (the Patriots) played them (in Super Bowl LI) he was on the injury report for two weeks, and we weren’t really sure if he was going to play. He went out there and played phenomenal. He played strong. He played powerful. He wasn’t hampered at all.

“He has a (veteran) savvy about him. He knows how to work different things in the middle with whatever is going on around him and you never miss a beat.”

One of the other keys to having Mack, was that he took over the protection calls from quarterback Matt Ryan.

“I think his communication at the line of scrimmage, I think you can see where he and Matt Ryan have really grown from that,” Patricia said. “When you look at a player like that, who’s been doing it for so long.”

Detroit’s center Frank Ragnow is considered an up-and-coming player in the league.

“Skill-sets are maybe a little bit different from the strength-and-weaknesses standpoint, but I think it’s all of those other things that you can really look at,” Patricia said. “Frank’s a tough guy. He’s smart guy. He’s going to have all of those tools, and he’s just kind of continuing to build on that. ... Those intangibles are what you look for especially at that position.”

What’s Mack’s price tag? Could the Falcons cobble together a respectable offer? There likely will be suitors for Mack’s services. He’ll have some options which may include retirement.

Mack, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent March 17, played two seasons with San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan. They were together in Cleveland (2015) and in Atlanta (2016).

“Kyle is an incredible coach,” Mack said via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area recently. “He’s an incredible coach, great person, strong motivator and runs an offense that is something that I’d know really well and that I performed very well in.”

Weston Richburg of the 49ers didn’t make it back after complications from knee surgery and former Falcon Ben Garland started five games at center and ex-Falcons practice-squad player Daniel Brunskill ended the season as the starting center.

Mack, who played at California, was the 21st overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft by the Browns. He has started all 131 games he’s played in. He played 78 games with the Falcons. He was a team captain in 2019 and 2020.

Going into last season, Mack gave his thoughts on continuing to play.

“I’m taking it year-by-year, now,” Mack said. “I know my goal when I showed up in the league was (to play) 10 years. I thought that was a really good, lengthy career. From here on out, I want to do the best I can to make sure I play at the highest level. Play one year at a time. I think I’ve got a lot of juice in the tank.”

Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo gives the Falcons their first points of the game with a field goal  the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
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Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo gives the Falcons their first points of the game with a field goal the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

2. Koo is ERFA: Some of the salary websites list Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo as an unrestricted free agent.

He is an exclusive-rights free agent, which practically guarantees his return for 2021.

He has three credited and only two accrued seasons, so he’s officially an upcoming ERFA.

The Falcons will retain his rights as long as they tender him an offer by the start of free agency.

After a Pro Bowl season, that likely will happen real soon.

3. ‘Stay or Go’ follow up: Move defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and corner Tyler Hall over to the “stay” group. They are young talents that have been developed and will help the salary-cap strapped Falcons.

Also, got some push back about Mack and Kazee not being on the “stay” list. Both moves were cap-related.

Can the new cap-guy Chris Olsen move enough cash around to keep Mack and Damontae Kazee? Can he keep Keanu Neal? Last offseason, the Falcons couldn’t keep De’Vondre Campbell or Austin Hooper, two players they had developed.

Explore2021 Falcons defense: Stay or Go?

4. Unrestricted free agents: Here’s a look at the Falcons’ list of unrestricted free agents:

Darqueze Dennard, Todd Gurley, Charles Harris, Brian Hill, Damontae Kazee, Alex Mack, Justin McCray, Steven Means, Keanu Neal, Sharrod Neasman, LaRoy Reynolds, Edmond Robinson, Matt Schaub (retired), Luke Stocker, Laquon Treadwell, John Wetzel and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

5. Restricted free agents: A player with three accrued years (at least six games) of service. The team can place three levels of tenders on these players for a non-guaranteed one-year deal. Other teams can sign to an offer-sheet, with the current team have a chance to match or they can allow them to leave and receiver draft compensation based on the tender level.

Here are the Falcons RFAs:

Matt Gono and Brandon Powell.

6. Exclusive-rights free agents: They have three or fewer accrued seasons and can negotiate only with their current team ahead of the new year. If they are not tendered a contract, they become unrestricted free agents:

Here are the Falcons ERFAs:

Christian Blake, Greg Dortch, Jaeden Graham, Tyler Hall, Younghoe Koo and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot talking with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney at quarterback Trevor Lawrence's Pro Day workout on Friday, February 12, 2021. (Photo credit:  Courtesy of David Platt/Clemson Athletics)
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Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot talking with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney at quarterback Trevor Lawrence's Pro Day workout on Friday, February 12, 2021. (Photo credit: Courtesy of David Platt/Clemson Athletics)

7. College Pro Days: The first key Pro Day for the Falcons is North Dakota State on March 12 to see quarterback Trey Lance. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s Pro Day is on March 26 and Ohio State’s Justin Fields is on March 30.

Boston College center Alec Lindstrom, the brother of Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom, has his Pro Day on March 26.

We are waiting for Oregon to set their Pro Day. Penei Sewell is considered by some to be the best player likely to be available at No. 4.

Also, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons’ Pro Day is set for March 25 and Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley’s Pro Day is set for March 26.

Here’s an early list of the Pro Days:

March 5: Kansas

March 9: Kansas State

March 10: Arkansas

March 11: Clemson, Nevada

March 12: North Dakota State, Oklahoma

March 16: Georgia Tech

March 17: Georgia, Pittsburgh

March 18: Auburn, Buffalo, Louisiana Tech, West Virginia

March 19: Memphis, TCU

March 22: Colorado State, Florida State, Iowa, Toledo

March 23: Alabama, Central Michigan, Iowa State, Nebraska, Purdue

March 24: Michigan State, South Carolina

March 25: North Texas, Ole Miss, Penn State, San Diego State, SMU, Massachusetts, Western Michigan

March 26: Boston College, Brigham Young, Michigan, South Dakota, Virginia Tech

March 29: Duke, Louisiana-Lafayette, Miami, Miami (Ohio), North Carolina

March 30: Ohio State, Louisville, Washington

March 31: Boise State, Florida, Kentucky, Notre Dame

April 1: Charlotte, Oklahoma State, South Florida

April 7: Texas Tech

April 9: Houston

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (11) tackles Rutgers tight end Johnathan Lewis (11) in the first quarter Nov. 30, 2019, in State College, Pa. Penn State All-American Micah Parsons is opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns about COVID-19. The junior linebacker made his announcement with a social media post Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Barry Reeger/AP)
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Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (11) tackles Rutgers tight end Johnathan Lewis (11) in the first quarter Nov. 30, 2019, in State College, Pa. Penn State All-American Micah Parsons is opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns about COVID-19. The junior linebacker made his announcement with a social media post Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Barry Reeger/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

8: Falcons’ draft slots: The Falcons are expected to receive at least two compensatory picks in the NFL draft, which is set for April 29 through May 1. Here are the Falcons’ slots throughout the draft, though the list will change when the compensatory picks are announced.

Round 1, Pick No. 4

Round 2, Pick No. 35

Round 3, Pick No. 68

Round 4, Pick No. 98

Round 5, Pick No. 131

Round 6, Pick No. 162

9. Falcons’ 2021 draft position: In the Cincinnati Bengals media mock draft, writer Geoff Hobson pays tribute to former Yahoo Sports writer Terez Paylor, who died in his sleep Feb. 8. D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution selected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields for the Falcons with the fourth overall pick and Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round.

Top five picks

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

2. New York Jets - Ja’ Marr Chase, WR, LSU

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston) - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

4. Falcons - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

SECOND ROUND

35. Falcons - ILB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

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