This is the end of the line for Joe Thomas. After a league source told Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com that the Browns’ stalwart left tackle is more than likely retiring, the 33-year-old Thomas confirmed it himself.
He will not return for a 12th season.
“This was an extremely difficult decision, but the right one for me and my family,” Thomas said. “Playing in the NFL has taken a toll on my body and I can no longer physically compete at the level I need to.”
He will leave the game as one of the best players of his era and will be a near-lock for the Hall of Fame five years from now.
“From the moment I was drafted, the city embraced me in a way that I could never fully describe,” Thomas said. “I am proud to call Cleveland home. The loyalty and passion of the fans is unmatched and it was an honor to play in front of them from the past 11 years. I would like to thank all of the coaches, teammates, staff, fans and everyone who has shown me support throughout my career. Even though I will be hanging up my cleats, I will always be a Cleveland Brown.”
He will end his career as one of the best offensive linemen of his era and one of the greatest players in Browns history. Thomas’ run of 10 straight Pro Bowls from 2007-16 doubles as the only time in NFL history an offensive lineman has accomplished that in his first 10 seasons. Only Otto Graham and Jim Brown ended their careers with more first-team All-Pro honors than Thomas’ six, the last of which coming in 2015. From 2009-15, only once did the 6-foot-7 blocker not finish as an All-Pro.
A constant trade candidate in his 30s, Thomas continued to insist he wanted to stay in Cleveland rather than go try and win elsewhere as so many veterans before him did. And neither Ray Farmer nor Sashi Brown pulled the trigger on dealing him. Although, the Browns and Broncos came close to striking a deal in 2015 — months before a Denver team with a need at tackle celebrated a Super Bowl championship.
Perhaps most known for his ironman streak that spanned from his rookie year until midway through last season, Thomas never appeared in a playoff game but established an immense legacy in northeast Ohio.
The Wisconsin product started in 167 straight games (10,363 straight snaps), protecting 20 different quarterbacks and being the team’s cornerstone player through many rebuilding missions. The closest the Browns came to the postseason was in Thomas’ rookie year, when Derek Anderson piloted the team to a 10-6 record. They have not had a winning season since and have won more than five games just one other time in that span.
Thomas has spoken glowingly about the Browns’ prospects, but he is opting to step aside.
“I think the future is really bright,” he said recently. “Obviously, John Dorsey came here for a reason because there was a ton of cap space, a ton of money that you can spend under the salary cap on new players, and obviously the draft picks that we have are pretty impressive, really unprecedented to have the first, the fourth [overall selections] and a couple early picks in the second round. So although the talent hasn’t been there for the team the last few years, the cupboards are not bare because of what we have coming down the pike in the next few years. For me as a player and for you guys as fans, it’s a great time to be a Cleveland Brown.”
Earlier this week, Thomas indicated that the Browns’ moves over the past week won’t impact his decision. Those moves, of course, include the acquisitions of wide receiver Jarvis Landry, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Damarious Randall. They also added a pair of new offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson. The Browns were interested in Nate Solder as a Thomas replacement, but the Giants agreed to sign him.
Thomas has been an active member of the community in Cleveland, having been the only player to earn the Walter Payton Man of the Year award multiple times (2010, 2012 and 2016), and has launched the ThomaHawk Show, a podcast with former Browns and Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.