Atlanta Falcons six-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who has one year remaining on his contract, said he is "taking it one year at a time'' regarding his NFL future after the team drafted his possible replacement.
Mack, who turns 35 in November, had hoped to play at least 10 years when he entered the league as a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns (2009). Now heading into his 12th season, Mack will let 2020 play out before deciding how to proceed.
"Going into Year 12, I feel pretty good and excited for it, ready to take it on,'' Mack told ESPN. "I'll play the year out, see how I feel -- how my body works and how much I'm enjoying it -- then make the decision at the end of year if I want to keep going or what. The future is unknown, and that's the way I'm looking at it. Every year is one year at a time: keep going, prepare, and play, and do everything as best as I can. Then I'll see where I'm at.''
The Falcons drafted center Matt Hennessy from Temple in the third round, but Hennessy initially will line up at left guard. He figures to be the center of the future. Mack, a team captain and respected leader, called it his duty to help Hennessy develop even if the plan is for Hennessy to supplant him at center.
"I told him like, 'Hey, glad you're on the team. I'll help you as much as a I can,''' Mack said. "And I don't know. Will he play center in the year? Will I be out of the league? Will I be on a different team? Will I still be a Falcon? The future is unknown there. But it's my duty to help him be as good as he can be. If he's a teammate or a former teammate, if I can help the younger guys learn more, it only helps you. It makes me a valuable part of the team to be able to coach people.
"And you want good people next to you. If he ends up being the left guard and I helped him a lot, well that helps me. If I get hurt and he steps in and plays awesome at center, well all my teammates that I care about now have a better [prepared] center. I'm fortunate to be in a position where if I coach him so well and he takes my job, well, I'll be OK. I'll survive. I'll move on. I'll retire from football or I'll go somewhere else. I'd love to be able to have the right attitude and help.''
Mack said former Browns starting center Hank Fraley was helpful when he came to Cleveland and eventually replaced Fraley as the starter.
The Falcons signed Mack to a five-year, $45 million deal ($28.5 million guaranteed) in March 2016. He is due to make $8 million this season with a cap number of $10.55 million. Mack has started all 69 games with the Falcons including the playoffs and has played 4,292 snaps. The Falcons limited some of Mack's practice reps last season to keep him fresh.
The Falcons, who made it to the Super Bowl in 2016, face a must-win year coming off back-to-back 7-9 seasons. Mack was asked if the success of the team in 2020 could play into his decision.
"If we have a really good year and do everything we want, and I feel great and they want me back again, absolutely, let's do it again,'' he said. "There's no real use in me worrying about it too much now. You take it as it comes. You play the year out and see where things are when it is time to make a decision.''
Mack is working out at home in California during the coronavirus pandemic.
"One thing that is really tough with the whole quarantine is that it's tougher to take care of your body,'' Mack said. "Usually we'd be at OTAs and we'd have an army of trainers and physical therapists working on things. Now, all that stuff has to be done at home on my own. In that regard, the quarantine and this virtual offseason is difficult. You have to be smart with how you take care of yourself.''
Mack, treasurer of the NFLPA executive committee, offered his thoughts on how the league should proceed in preparing for the season.
"I think we're in a good position in terms of not having to make any hard decision yet,'' Mack said. "I think the season is still a good deal away, and we're still learning about this virus.
"The biggest thing will be health and safety of the players and the league. I think everyone wants games to be played. I think the players do. The NFL does. The union. The fans. Everyone wants football to come back. If we can find a way to do that safely, let's do it. But we want it to be good for society.''