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The remarkable Joe Thomas was just ordinary Joe: While We’re Waiting

Joe Thomas
Pat McManamon / ESPN

Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

It’s certainly been an interesting week in Cleveland sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers kicked off their season in an emotional game which saw not only the return of Kyrie Irving, but also the gruesome injury to Gordon Hayward. We also say the Cavaliers win an impressive road game in Milwaukee against the Bucks only to return home and lay a complete egg against the Orlando Magic, who used the three-point shot to do to the Cavaliers what the Cavaliers have done to other teams so often in the past couple of seasons.

Then Sunday, we saw the Cleveland Browns have yet another winnable game right within their grasp, kick a FG with under a minute remaining to send it to overtime, only to eventually fall in OT. But more importantly, we saw Joe Thomas go down with a triceps injury. That injury not only ended his insane 10,363 consecutive snaps streak, but also, sadly, his season.

So yeah, it’s been a bit of an up and down week in sports for us as Cleveland fans, but above all else, there were certainly a lot of emotions at play between Kyrie Irving and Joe Thomas. It’s funny to really think about the difference between those two players who started their careers in Cleveland. Joe Thomas spent his entire career playing for losing team after losing team. He only sniffed the playoffs once in his career, and that was his rookie season when the Browns went 10-6, but still missed the playoffs.

Kyrie Irving’s career in Cleveland definitely started out rough. While Joe Thomas experienced a winning season his first year, Kyrie’s first season was mostly a disaster for the team. Kyrie would spend his first three seasons on teams that mirror what the Cleveland Browns are now. Of course, then LeBron James came back to Cleveland and the team went on a run of success the franchise has never seen before, going to three straight NBA Finals and culminating in the 2016 NBA Championship.

While the prospects of Joe Thomas ever seeing the postseason were growing smaller and smaller, Kyrie and the Cavaliers were poised for more success and chasing more titles. Yet, it wasn’t Joe Thomas who asked to leave Cleveland. It was Kyrie Irving who wanted to walk away from a successful franchise. It was Joe Thomas who never complained about his situation (not outwardly, anyway) and who made the choice to persevere in Cleveland.

Now, obviously it’s not that simple. It’s not just that Joe Thomas is such a high character guy (he is, though) and Kyrie Irving is somehow a bad person for wanting to leave Cleveland (he’s not). There were surely a lot of things that went into Kyrie’s decision to leave and Thomas’ decision to not leave. Some of the things we can probably take a pretty good guess at.

For Kyrie, he signed his extension to stay in Cleveland believing the team was going to build around him. This was going to be his franchise. When LeBron returned, all of that went out the window. Kyrie and LeBron always had an uneasy relationship and we saw plenty of examples of LeBron’s passive-aggressive attitude toward his teammates. It’s possible it was even worse behind the scenes. And certainly Kyrie had to be growing weary of always being referred to as a “kid” by LeBron. Furthermore, there were issues of playstyles and organizational input. All of that surely played into it, along with countless other factors we can’t even know about.

So to be clear, this isn’t to simply vilify Kyrie Irving for leaving. While, as a fan, I hate it and I’ll probably never stop wondering what could have been had Kyrie stayed and had LeBron and Kyrie worked a little more at developing a deeper relationship both on the court and off it, I have to respect Kyrie’s decision as a man. It’s his life, and he made the choice that he felt was best for him.

Instead, I merely want Kyrie’s decision to ask out of Cleveland to serve as a baseline to further demonstrate just how remarkable it is that Joe Thomas has never asked out of Cleveland. On the surface, it would seem like Thomas would give anything to have a situation like the one Kyrie walked away from. It’s easy to see things that way from the outside looking in.

But really, if you listen to anyone who knows Thomas, has played with him, been friends with him, or even talked to him even in passing, it seems like Thomas staying with Cleveland through everything is far from remarkable. Instead, it’s just who Joe Thomas is. And as this injury finally shatters our illusion that Thomas was unbreakable, we now find ourselves wondering, is this it for Joe Thomas and the Browns?

Joe Thomas has one year left on his contract. Yesterday, he expressed that he wasn’t sure about his future. Facing surgery, it’s hard to blame him for not thinking about playing football next season just yet. But if Thomas returns, could this be the time the Browns and Thomas part ways? Could the Browns either release him or trade him to allow him to go free and chase a season with a team who has the playoffs in their sights?

It’s possible, and frankly, the thought of Joe Thomas’ last play with the Browns and our last time seeing him in a Browns uniform being the play where he hurt his triceps had to leave the game is just downright heartbreaking.

I’m not sure people who don’t follow Cleveland sports could ever possibly understand what Thomas has meant to us. Some might laugh at the way an offensive lineman is so beloved in a sport that often times overlooks linemen for the glory of the playmakers. But Thomas was our one dependable beacon of light in an otherwise dark sports existence. I never played offensive line, so I know nothing about technique. I rarely, if ever, pay much attention to the line when I watch football. But I did with the Browns and Joe Thomas.

Indeed, all those seasons, when the Browns were just painfully embarrassing and hard to watch, you could always just watch Joe Thomas play and be amazed at the consistency of his performance. I may not know how to breakdown technique, but I know what I saw when I watched Joe Thomas play. Snap after snap, game after game, play after play, there was Joe Thomas, single-handedly keeping his opponent away from the Browns QB. You didn’t need a double-team when you had Thomas. It was so fun to watch. Play after play, opposing defensive lineman would try every trick in their arsenal to get past Thomas. It never mattered what they tried, though. Thomas was always up to the task.

I hope Joe Thomas comes back for another season. In a perfect world, I would hope that season would be with the Browns. But a growing part of me also wants the Browns to just set him free. I want him to experience postseason football. I would want that to be in Cleveland, but we know that’s not going to happen. So, unfortunately, if it’s going to happen, it has to happen elsewhere.

No matter what the future holds for Joe Thomas and the Cleveland Browns, I just know that I will spend the rest of my life feeling grateful for having the pleasure of watching Joe Thomas play football and rooting for him. He will probably forever be my favorite Cleveland Brown. I just hope above all else that my days of watching him play, wherever that may be, aren’t over. Here’s to a speedy and full recovery, Joe. Get well soon, we miss you!

  • jpftribe

    I don’t think you stick with the plan. I think you change the plan. If the people whose job it is are incapable of learning and correcting their mistakes, then you have to change the people too.

    Hindsight is a fairly accurate, but not completely so, gauge for what is working and what is not. Results on the field tell me:
    Roster and coaching changes on Defense have improved the play on the field.
    Special teams continues to underperform.
    Offense is inept mainly due to complete lack of skill position players, not very good game plans and very questionable play calls.

    They will likely have high quality picks in 18. The only trade strategy should be for proven skill position, preferably QB. Trading quality for quantity, or future quality should be highly scrutinized.

    FA improved dramatically from 16 to 17. Britt was a high priced mistake, had a high risk profile and they should learn their lesson from that and stick with high character signings.

    Evaluation of WR, RB and QB needs an overhaul. Whatever they are doing is producing lousy results. They need to go back on their evals of Wentz, Goff, Bosa, Watson etc…. and see where they went wrong and fix it.

    Hue has to be a Head Coach, and a Head Coach. That is all. Time for an OC and staff to coach players, develop game plans and call plays. OB’s get evaluated by personnel staff, coaching is another input, but the GM decides who gets picked. ST is highly suspect to me and I would make changes there, but certainly not as screaming of a problem as the offense.

    If I’m Haslam, I’m sitting down with Depo, Brown, Berry, Hue and I want to hear what’s working, what is not, what corrections to course are going to be made and how we are going about executing those changes. The only people I’m firing are the one’s who either can’t admit a problem or quick to identify everyone else’s problem that needs to be fixed.

    Hue is the only person at that table that has done a similar job before, and it was only for 8 games, hardly the mark of a seasoned expert. If you are going to make those types of organizational design decisions, then you need to develop people no differently than you would develop rookies into established, high performing vets. Yes, they have all made mistakes, some of them very costly, but that is the price you pay for building this type of organization. The only grounds for dismissal are refusing to learn from those mistakes or not playing nice together.

  • tsm

    Couldn’t agree more. Just imagine what would happen if we called the Eagles and asked what it would take to get Wentz. They would simply hang up the phone.

  • jpftribe

    FWIW…. supposedly coming from current NFL scouts
    https://twitter.com/AllbrightNFL/status/920743514790559746

  • JNeids
  • mgbode

    Aligns w/ many rumors that have been floating around about him the past couple years.

  • If your standard for considering change is that the new plan must be GUARANTEED to work, I would suggest that you are a comically unreasonable person. Any new plan would bring with it risk. There are no guarantees to be found. But using that to justify sticking with a course of action that is consistently showing itself to be ineffective is just plain cowardly, and wastes the time and stretches the loyalty of all but the most die-hard (delusional?) supporters of this franchise. No enterprise can afford to do that for long and have any hope for continued existence.

    What more can Hue Jackson do to show that he simply isn’t cut out to steer us through the storm? Juggling QBs, blowing challenges, abandoning what should be the strength of his team and emphasizing its obvious weaknesses, failing to instill even a modicum of discipline: these are damnable offenses for a head coach at any level. What more can the front office do to show that they are inadequate when it comes to evaluating early-round talent? I don’t care if they hit on the occasional mid-round gem when they are blowing high picks on the Colemans and the Peppers of the world or hitching their star to the likes of Isaiah Crowell. I no longer trust them to do what they are here to do, and therefore cannot trust their process.

    Sticking with an obviously bad thing isn’t stability. And this franchise has reached the point where I’m confident in calling this a bad thing. They can have the remainder of the season to show us something worth building on. But if we continue to be the same undisciplined, unfocused, and unprofessional clown show we have been to this point in 2017, then we simply have to make a change for 2018. What should those specific changes be? That’s above my pay grade, though I’m confident I could come up with options at least between now and January. Standing pat through another 0-2 win season though just won’t work. So let’s see something, or burn it down. Failure to do so will only further drive away what was once among the most loyal group of fans in American sports.

  • tigersbrowns2

    this is an excellent post … i look back to 1999 , they made Tim Couch the first pick in the draft … shouldn’t they have concentrated on the O-line & D-line first ?? what good is a broken QB or a QB that is running for his life every play ?

    the HBT has addressed both the O-line & the D-line first , not QB … what good are skill players if you have no O-line ? i think they have done a good job stocking the O-line & D-line. then look at draft capital … for a rebuild , they have done an excellent job … am i wrong ? yes, they have missed on some draft picks , but they haven’t done a horrible job as many make it out to be.

    and here they are , they have TWO 1st round picks , THREE 2nd round picks & they have a nice chunk of cap space to make a real splash this season … they have been working 2 years to get to this point & they have themselves set-up real real nice & yet some people want them gone , only 2 years into a 4-5 year plan ?? this is just ludicrous , IMO.

    how about we let these guys have their next off-season that they worked pretty hard to set-up ?? and has anyone ever thought that maybe the HBT was pointing to this off-season to make their QB move ?? whether it’s going after Cousins with all that cap space , or whether it’s using some of that draft capital to corner the market in this next draft.

  • JM85

    I always appreciated Joe Thomas. But after seeing Kessler run for his life the whole second half, you see how invaluable he is.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi B-BO … good post … and i respect your POV. let’s say you bring in Parcells , Cowher & whoever you want to turn this thing around … are there any guarantees that they are going to succeed ? and what do you do if they go 1-15 in their first seasons … commence the firings again ??

    in all seriousness , how do you know if the HBT’s plan is bad ?? i see a FO that is set-up real real nice next off-season & they deserve the chance to see-it-through.

  • Chris

    What Would Ray Farmer Do?

    Skip the interviews, trade down only to trade back up draft him!!

  • Chris

    Seems like a perfect candidate to draft 22nd overall

  • tigersbrowns2

    agreed … hopefully Drango has been watching JT real close as it’s time to put his big-boy pants on.

  • Again, if you’re looking for guarantees then you’re in the wrong business/plane of reality: THEY. DO NOT. EXIST. You can resurrect Lombardi, Walsh, and Rooney and you aren’t getting a guarantee of anything. And of course you don’t burn it all down after one season. But if after a 1-22 start Parcells or Cowher or whomever is blowing basic penalty decisions while running an offense that emphasizes the weakest parts of its talent by forcing a rookie QB to throw 40+ times a game to a corps of receivers who barely belong on a practice squad, and has a team that still makes stupid mental mistakes like jumping offsides a half dozen times a game or burning two timeouts in the first quarter or getting a delay of game penalties coming out of a timeout or being offsides on a kickoff? While demonstrating little to know skill that would make them worthy of retaining as anything more than special teams fodder or third-string depth? Then they can tell their story walking as well. A season and a half is enough time to demonstrate that discipline and focus and professionalism are all part of the new culture, even if wins don’t necessarily follow. Not sure that’s even been hinted at in Cleveland since Mangini was at the helm. I know their plan is bad because I have functioning eyes.

  • tigersbrowns2

    “a season and a half is enough time… ” … after a major purge of the roster & starting a total rebuild ? did you expect all the pieces to be in-place already ?

    this is just me , but considering the defense is playing okay & we have/had a pretty good O-line in place , i think you will be surprised at how quickly things can turn around when they put the right QB , stud RB & a true play-making WR or two in there. and all 3 of these can be addressed in a big way this next FA period & the next draft … they have worked for 2 years on the draft capital & cap space & I wanna see what they can do with it.

  • tigersbrowns2

    if it makes you feel any better … look at the recent pre-HBT 1st round picks : Weeden , T.Richardson , Mingo , Gilbert , Manziel , Shelton & Erving … with Shelton being the only decent pick.

    the HBT picked C.Coleman , Garrett , Peppers & Njoku … that’s better than what the previous regimes did. I know , I know … i don’t know what i’m talking about.

  • Just think of how much more exciting those positives you mentioned would be if they were coming into a situation with competent coaching. Not even GREAT coaching, just COMPETENT, or a front office we could rely on to make wise use of those great picks. I’m all a-flutter just thinking about it. Meanwhile we can’t even get out of the driveway without backing over the family pet and hitting a fire hydrant, but I’m supposed to get excited dreaming of the (potential) new Ferrari we might be getting 6 months from now? Of course, we are assuming that the HBT actually buys the Ferrari at all, when most signs seem to point to them showing up with either the same exact thing we have now only a slightly newer model, or a solar-powered Vespa because “you just wait, this is the way of the FUTURE”.

    You want to see what they do with it. Me? I’m TERRIFIED of what they’ll do with it. If past performance is any indicator, it’s going to be quite underwhelming.

  • CBI

    Yes.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good morning , sir … the Browns 1st round picks since 2011 :

    pre-HBT :
    2011 – P.Taylor
    2012 – T.Richardson . Weeden
    2013 – Mingo
    2014 – Gilbert , Manziel
    2015 – Shelton , Erving

    HBT :
    2016 – C.Coleman
    2017 – Garrett , Peppers , Njoku

    1) the previous regimes have put the HBT in the position they are in.
    2) while the jury may still be out on a few of our picks , wouldn’t you say the HBT has already done better than the 3 previous FO’s ??

  • BenRM

    It’s better than Farmer/Banner/Lombardi, yes. Njoku and Garrett look like real NFL players. So they are beating the previous 2 regimes 2-1.

    Until I see Peppers and Coleman actually play good football, I’ll consider them busts.

  • WFNY_DP

    Until I see Peppers actually play the position he played in college (and was presumably drafted to play), I won’t call him a bust. I will call him horribly miscast and struggling to learn a position: a) he never played in college, and b) doesn’t really exist in most NFL defensive schemes (the 25-yards-deep-on-3rd-and-6 FS).

  • 1) I’m not sure I understand your point here. Yes, the past does indeed affect the present, because time is linear. But I’m not certain how bad decisions by this current regime in any way excuse bad decisions by the previous one.

    2) Garrett was a markedly better first rounder than the pre-HBT picks. Njoku, while not a bust, is a project at a largely fungible position, and you burned a first rounder to get him rather than address genuine needs. Coleman is a bust, and Peppers does nothing a late-round guy couldn’t have done for us. If that impresses you, then so be it. I see a bar that was set at subterranean levels by the guys before, making the one quality pick by this group seem positively Fosbury-an by comparison.

    Again, nothing done by either the front office or the coaching staff indicates to me that they are worth holding on to other than to say we held on to them. Maybe you reshuffle Sashi and Co. and bring in some more experienced minds and keep the guillotine in storage if you must. But if Hue and his coaching staff can’t win more than 3 games in two years while the on-field product continues to be hopelessly, hilariously inept? Then nothing logical justifies keeping them around.

  • tigersbrowns2

    thanks , B-BO …

  • BenRM

    I’m basically over giving guys passes until I see that they deserve them.

    Hue is a crap OC, but Kizer still sucks at QB.
    Coleman hasn’t been able to see the field, but he still sucks at WR.
    Peppers is playing out of position, but he still sucks at it.

  • WFNY_DP

    I didn’t say Peppers was good right now, or that he deserves a pass at all for his play. I said I won’t call him a “bust” until I see him actually deployed like he should be. You KNOW if we cut him in two years he’s going to go somewhere else where smart coaches will use him right and he’ll be just fine.