The Browns may have added a number of high profile free agents, but they lost the stalwart of their franchise on Wednesday. Longtime LT Joe Thomas announced his retirement from the NFL after 11 years in Cleveland.
The 33-year-old will go down as one of the greatest ever offensive lineman, making ten Pro Bowls and being named an All-Pro nine times in his career.
His solidity on the left-hand side of the line was never truly utilized by a franchise whose seemingly endless battle to find a starting QB has endured his tenure as a Brown.
Thomas is almost certainly a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He deserves that for his consummate professionalism and consistent excellence, especially considering he’s often been surrounded by mediocre personnel and coaches.
He cited his knee injury as a key factor in his decision, going into rather graphic detail to describe the extreme level of pain he was in during 2017:
“Looking down the barrel of a knee replacement, I think that definitely becomes a decision where you’re like, hey, this football has been amazing, it’s been more than I could ever have expected, but you have to take other things into consideration when you’re deciding if you’re going to play football anymore,” Thomas said.
“For the last two to three years of my career it’s been impossible for me to practice. My knee would swell up so much and my back would get so tight. All the injuries add up, it’s like a chain reaction… I’ve had four knee surgeries in my career, obviously the elbow surgery, countless ligament tears, muscle tears, arthritis in just about every joint in my body, and you just get to that point where you can’t do it anymore.
“I remember a time during the season last year, where I was standing in front of the media at the podium — this was before I got hurt — and I had Mobic, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory, in my body, I had Tylenol and Vicodin, and I couldn’t stand for more than a minute or two without excruciating bone pain in my knee and my back. It was almost at that point where I was saying to myself, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the rest of this season.’ Now luckily my elbow snapped before anything happened with the rest of my body, but you just start thinking in you head, like I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”
Only four other players in NFL history gained selection to the Pro Bowl in each of their first ten seasons- Merlin Olsen, Mel Renfro, Barry Sanders and Lawrence Taylor. Thomas’ achievement is arguably more impressive though, given the Browns only managed one winning season during that time and he never played in a playoff game.
Thomas won just 48 games as a Brown. He also played with a staggering 20 starting QB in only 11 seasons.
Despite the unwavering lack of success, the 33-year-old has never hinted at leaving, and his loyalty in the face of adversity is commendable. “I’ll always be a Browns fan. They’ll always be my team,” Thomas said.
The NFL waved goodbye to one of the all-time greatest, and all-time toughest, players in Joe Thomas.