Deck is pretty far gone. Also, the HF predator is $900, though Amazon has a 19HP briggs for $750. I'm open to throwing a replacement engine on it, but it better be a newer design because the 19 I have has many, many complaints about head gasket failure between 50 and 200 hours.
Just a couple of years ago, I managed to pick up the Harbor Freight 22-horse vertical engine for $549. It replaced a Kohler Courage engine. Don't believe the name , because all you need to do is a little internet surfing to see the reputation on the Kohler. I now agree with you on avoiding that HF engine, as they have priced themself out of the market and their warranty is a joke. Here's another vote for dumping your current mower and getting something better.