Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas had never missed a game, a start, a snap. For 11 seasons, he has been the one constant, the eternal flame of optimism, the anchor not only for the offensive line but for the entire team. The 2007 Round 1 draft pick had defined what it meant to be a Brown: To take the rough with the smooth, to persevere, to dance with the lady who brought you to the party. He never moved on, no matter how frequently he was the subject of trade rumors. He stayed, to make the franchise better and to be there when it happened.
And now, his season—and perhaps even his career—has come to an end.
Thomas exited the Browns’ eventual overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7 in the third quarter, an injury to his left triceps to blame. His record-setting consecutive snaps streak came to a close at an outstanding, baffling and probably never-to-be-bested 10,363. And after an MRI on Monday, Thomas—in his typical understated way—confirmed what we all already knew to be true but weren’t all that ready to hear: The tricep tendon is torn and surgery is required.
MRI reveals torn tricep tendon. Surgery soon. Tough break.— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) October 23, 2017
The surgery will take “six to nine months” of recovery time, according to Thomas on a conference call on Monday, and is scheduled for Tuesday at this time. After that is anyone’s guess; Thomas himself said it was “too soon” to know whether or not he will continue to play for a 12th season or if he will hang up his cleats for good.
Joe Thomas is on a conference call. He expects surgery will be tomorrow. He says it is too soon to know if he'll continue to play or retire.— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) October 23, 2017
Thomas has been with the Browns for 11 seasons, most of which he’s spent as one of the league’s best offensive tackles (and offensive linemen, period). This year, he was Pro Football Focus’ fourth-ranked tackle despite the Browns’ winless record and the 20 sacks taken by Cleveland’s quarterbacks. In his career, he’s been responsible for just 39 sacks and in 2017, that number has thus far been zero despite being on the field, pre-injury, for 100 percent of the Browns’ offensive snaps, with 300 of his coming in pass-protection.
In case you needed a reminder of how good Joe Thomas has been this season:— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 22, 2017
300 pass blocks
0 sacks allowed
1 hit allowed
10 hurries allowed
In his place, at least for Week 8, will be Spencer Drango, who was manhandled on Sunday by veteran Brian Orakpo as Thomas’ replacement against the Titans. But Thomas confirmed he will be there to mentor the 2016 fifth-round draft pick who, a season ago, gave up 6.5 sacks in nine starts. But while the Browns have no choice to deploy the next-man-up rhetoric that repeatedly punctuates any given NFL season, there’s no question that Drango, or anyone, could never a true replacement for Thomas.
Now, there’s a new reality facing the Browns. Through coaching changes, front office shuffles, drama, rumors, insinuations, roster upheavals and dozens of quarterbacks one thing has never altered: Thomas’ presence, ever calming, offering a level of stability not found anywhere else in those Berea hallways. Now, he’s done for the year earlier than it’s ever happened before and his career is potentially behind him. The Browns aren’t just down a player but have also lost a touchstone of their identity. There is something worse than 0-7.