The Pro Football Hall of Fame might want to start preparing: Joe Thomas figures to be arriving in five years.
Thomas, 33, announced Wednesday that he will retire after 11 standout seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
“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.
“From the moment I was drafted, the city embraced me in a way that I could never fully describe. 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.”
Thomas was the model of consistent excellence for the Browns, from the day they drafted him third overall out of Wisconsin in 2007 until he tore his triceps tendon on Oct. 22 of last season.
That injury snapped a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps, believed to be the longest in NFL history. Thomas played every down of every game from the time he was drafted until that injury. And he played every play and every game at a high level.
In his 11 seasons, Thomas missed the Pro Bowl once — last season because of the injury. Thomas’ 10 Pro Bowls in 10 seasons are a Browns record, one year more than Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Lou Groza.
Only four other players in NFL history made the Pro Bowl in each of their first 10 seasons — Merlin Olsen (14), Mel Renfro (10), Barry Sanders (10) and Lawrence Taylor (10). Thomas’ feat is even more impressive given the Browns had one winning season during that span — in his rookie season — and he never played in a playoff game. The Browns in his tenure went 48-128, an average of 4.4 wins per season.
Yet Thomas never asked out. His attitude about playing in hopeless seasons was summed in one simple quote midway through his career: “You still have a job to do.”
Because of that attitude, and because of his high standard, Thomas was embraced by Cleveland, a city he made his year-round home. Browns fans appreciated his work ethic, enjoyed his sense of humor and admired the fact Thomas never made it about him and never wanted to play for another team. Thomas is a rarity in sports — an outstanding player who spent his entire career with the team that drafted him.
Thomas’ future could be in broadcasting and media. In January he spent a day at ESPN working on various shows, and on the same day he was in Bristol, Connecticut, his first-person analysis of why it was smart for the Browns to retain Hue Jackson appeared on SI.com.
Thomas has a popular podcast with former receiver Andrew Hawkins called The ThomaHawk Show. He also hosted the Joe Thomas Hour on the team’s website, a show he introduced as “the most exciting two minutes of your life.”
Regardless of where his career heads, Thomas will surely be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he seems a likely candidate to earn entry in his first year of eligibility.