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CLEVELAND -- The Browns aren't letting Alex Mack walk away freely. The team locked the free agent Pro Bowl center into a one-year, $10.039 million contract on Monday by designating him as their transition player.

By using the transition tag instead of the franchise tag, Cleveland will have five days to match any offer to Mack made by other teams when free agency opens on March 11.

If the Browns had used their franchise tag, Mack would have made $11.654 million next season. In the meantime, the Browns are expected to try and sign Mack to a long-term contract.

The 6-foot-4, 311-pounder has been one of Cleveland's best and most dependable players since the Browns drafted him in the first round in 2009. He has not missed one offensive play in five years, a run of 4,998 consecutive snaps. Mack may want to play elsewhere. He could draw serious interest as a free agent and he may be dismayed with the team's direction following another coaching change and front-office purge this winter.

The Browns have gone just 23-57 since Mack arrived. The decision to make Mack their transition player also means Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward is now a free agent. Ward had a solid 2013 season. He started all 16 games and made a career-high 129 tackles with two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.

With Ward seemingly no longer in their plans, the Browns could pursue Buffalo free safety Jairus Byrd, who was not tagged by the Bills.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Byrd could be reunited in Cleveland with new Browns coach Mike Pettine, who spent last season as Buffalo's defensive coordinator. Byrd turned down a multiyear offer from the Bills. He played under a one-year, $6.9 million franchise tag last year. The Browns have over $55 million in salary-cap room.

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