ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons took an aggressive approach to the start of free agency on Wednesday by agreeing to terms on a five-year, $47.5 million contract with three-time Pro Bowl centre Alex Mack.
The deal makes the longtime Cleveland Browns starter the NFL’s highest-paid centre, with an average salary of $9.5 million.
The Falcons also reached an agreement with quarterback Matt Schaub, who will be returning to the city where he launched his NFL career.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he believes Mack will improve an offensive line that has struggled in recent years.
Quinn said he was won over by his study of Mack’s work, including "the consistency each week in his performance. … He is completely dialed in on the technique."
"Then I found out the character and what he stands for and the way he likes to play, all those things added to it," Quinn added. "Competition is the central theme of the program and the way he plays, man, does he represent that."
Mack, 30, will be a good fit for Falcons offensive co-ordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. Shanahan spent the 2014 season with Mack as Cleveland’s offensive co-ordinator. Mack missed 11 games that season with a broken leg, but started the other 101 games in his seven seasons with the Browns.
The Falcons have had instability at centre since longtime starter Todd McClure retired following the 2012 season. Mike Person, James Stone and Gino Gradkowski started at the position last season.
Mack was set to make $24 million over the next three years on a contract he signed in 2014 before he opted out to become an unrestricted free agent.
"This was an extremely difficult decision," Mack said in a statement released by his agent, Timothy Younger. "After careful consideration, I concluded it was time to start a new chapter in my life. Over the last seven years, I have established friendships with teammates, coaches, and staff that will last a lifetime."
Added Mack: "I certainly will miss the Dawg Pound! I am VERY thankful and grateful for the opportunity and privilege to have played for the Browns organization, and I did my level best always to represent the team well."
The interior offensive line is an off-season priority for the Falcons, along with linebacker and wide receiver.
The team prepared for free agency by releasing three veterans: wide Roddy White, safety William Moore and linebacker Justin Durant.
Quinn confirmed Bengals free-agent receiver Mohamed Sanu will visit the Falcons this week and that Rams free-agent linebacker James Laurinaitis visited on Tuesday.
Quinn said the deal with Mack leaves financial flexibility to address other needs.
"We’ve got a good plan that we’re still working through with other players to add to the team," Quinn said. "We don’t feel at any way hamstrung or limited in that fashion. Alex is certainly an important piece to what we’re doing, but … I’m going to go right back to it to see over the next few days what other guys we can add to the club."
Schaub was a third-round pick by Atlanta in 2004. After three years as a backup with the Falcons, Schaub was traded to Houston before the 2007 season. He spent seven seasons with the Texans, starting 88 of 90 games, before serving as a backup with Oakland and Baltimore the past two seasons.
In two starts with the Ravens in 2015, Schaub completed 52 of 80 passes for 540 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Schaub will compete for the top backup job behind starter Matt Ryan.
The Falcons also released nose tackle Paul Soliai, who started 24 games the past two seasons.