Browns’ Joe Thomas calls it quits

Browns’ Joe Thomas

calls it quits

Ten-thousand, three-hundred and sixty-three consecutive snaps.

Ten consecutive Pro Bowls.

The best left tackle in the National Football League.

The best player for the Cleveland Browns since the franchise relaunched in 1999.

And, of course, zero playoff appearances.

Joe Thomas announced his retirement Wednesday. Tributes came pouring in from teammates, fans, coaches and executives.

A great player with a great sense of humor and a firm dedication to the Cleveland area, Thomas’ retirement leaves me conflicted.

Actually, not just his retirement. His career. His place in Browns history. His importance.

My brother Curtis, who is just as much as Browns fan as I am, perhaps put Thomas’ place with the team best when texted me this:

“The lesson in all of this,” he said, “is if you are going to get one thing right in 19 years, don’t make it a left tackle.”

Yes, that’s cold water on what should be a day of appreciation for Thomas’ greatness.

But it also explains why the Browns have been so bad for so long.

The one thing the team has done right ― the one high draft pick it hit on ― was on a highly-touted offensive lineman out of Wisconsin.

And even that is questionable. At the No. 3 spot in 2007, the Browns could have selected Adrian Peterson. Or Marshawn Lynch.

I’m not sure either are as good at their position as Thomas was at his. I am sure they impacted wins and losses more.

And that’s what stands out to me the most about Thomas.

While Thomas was being his brilliant self, the Browns were surrounding him with guys like Brady Quinn, Trent Richardson, Kenny Britt and Owen Marecic. And while he was steady, nothing else in the franchise was. In his 11 year career, Thomas played for six head coaches, six different front offices and two owners.

Thomas did all he could to make the team better.

But he couldn’t do enough.

Left tackles are very important. But they aren’t game changers. In Thomas’ rookie season, the Browns won 10 games. In the next 10 seasons, the Browns won 38. And just four in the last three years.

The Browns won 48 games in 11 seasons with Thomas. Had Thomas never donned an orange helmet, how many would they have won?

My guess? 49. But I could be wrong.

Thomas has been nothing but a credit to his team and his community. And he’s been very optimistic about the moves the team has made this offseason under new general manager John Dorsey.

But I hope that in all the praise he heaps on the left tackle today, Dorsey recognizes the reality of today’s NFL.

Yes, offensive lineman are valuable. But the ability of an all-time great tackle to impact a team against, say, a very good one, is negligible.

Dorsey’s focus needs to be on selecting great skill players, to provide Thomas’ replacement with opportunities the future Hall of Famer was never allowed.

Thomas has been wonderful for the Browns. But I must admit I’m glad he’s retiring. Last offseason, he admitted to struggling with memory loss.

He’s 33. It’s hard to imagine his struggles were not caused by football, and wouldn’t be made worse by playing even one more snap.

With that in mind, my message to him was simple:

Get out. Get out now.

He’s done the right thing. Maybe not for the Browns, but for his family and his future.

But I’m still sad.

Thomas has done so much for the Browns.

I wish the Browns could have done more for him.

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