- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The AFC North blog will take a look at one player on each team in the division who should be the priority for an extension before the season ends:
The only two players worthy of this discussion for the Cleveland Browns are center Alex Mack and T.J. Ward. While the Browns have enough cap room, roughly $31 million, to get both players signed beyond this season, the priority has to be Mack. He's not only the more talented and established player, but he's the more sound investment. Mack hasn't missed a game in his four-year NFL career and simply calling him durable doesn't do it justice. He played a game in October 2011 with appendicitis and was in the lineup 13 days after having surgery (he had it during the bye).
Mack is also one of the more underrated centers in the league. His quickness and awareness (which helps him in line calls) often goes overlooked when playing on the same line as left tackle Joe Thomas. Of the eight picks from the Browns' 2009 draft, Mack is the only one still in Cleveland. He is scheduled to make $3.7 million in the final year of his contract.
Ward could be on the verge of a breakthrough season, but he has to prove he can stay on the field before the Browns make a long-term commitment to him. A second-round pick in 2010, Ward has finished the past two seasons on injured reserve. A sprained right foot sidelined him for the final eight games in 2011, and a bone bruise in his knee kept him out for the final two games last season. But Ward has more value than the other Browns players entering the final year of their contracts like running back Montario Hardesty and guards Shawn Lauvao and John Greco.