CLEVELAND — The Decision hasn’t been made.
Browns left tackle Joe Thomas looks fit and trim, down about 10 pounds from his playing weight, and has been keeping busy with a new podcast with former teammate Andrew Hawkins. He’s begun to ponder whether to return in 2018 or retire but hasn’t come to a conclusion.
He said he’s not leaning one way or the other, but acknowledged he wouldn’t say if he were.
“There’s some days you go back and forth,” he said Wednesday night at the 18th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. “It’s just kind of how you feel.
“Had a lot of time to think and spend some time with the family but not ready definitively to make a decision one way or the other just yet.”
Thomas, 33, missed the final nine games after suffering a torn triceps tendon Oct. 22 against the Tennessee Titans. He had played 10,363 consecutive snaps to start his career, believed to be an NFL record.
He was surprised with an award Wednesday to commemorate the snap streak. He lost out to Indians ace Corey Kluber for Professional Athlete of the Year and presented awards with former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar to the top male and female high school athletes.
Thomas had surgery following the injury and got his 12-week checkup Tuesday. He’s about six months from being cleared to play, but the arm won’t affect his decision.
“I’m not worried about that. The elbow is something that’ll take care of itself,” he said. “I feel confident the rehab has gone well and it will continue to go well. Really for me, knee and back are the primary issues that I’ve been dealing with a number of years.”
Thomas, who made the Pro Bowl after each of his first 10 seasons, has practiced sparingly the last few years. He’s talked openly about the pain he experiences nearly every day throughout the season.
“It’s funny because during the season, Year 7, I had a back spasm that lasted four weeks,” he said. “Couldn’t practice. Basically couldn’t tie my own shoes. And I go, ‘This is my last year. There’s no way I can do this another season.’ And I made it four more after that.
“So it’s weird the highs and lows that you go through during a season, especially because of the emotional and physical toll a game takes on you.”
Thomas said he doesn’t feel a rush to make a decision and will inform the Browns when he does so they can plan accordingly in free agency and the draft. They don’t have a natural replacement on the roster.
“I told them I’ll make a decision when I’m ready and let them know and give them as much time as I possibly can,” he said. “I think that no matter what I decide to do this year, this is my last year on my contract in Cleveland, so I’m also 33 right now. So they need to be planning for somebody else pretty soon down the line whether it’s this year or the following year.”
But he kept his options open to play beyond 2018.
“I’m not ready to say anything definitively because I would hate to be wrong,” he said. “Because I’ve seen how a lot of other guys’ careers have ended. I grew up in Wisconsin a Brett Favre fan and I’ve seen how many times he was definitely not going to come play and then he played for the Jets and the Vikings.”
Thomas likes the direction the Browns are headed despite going 0-16 but said he won’t consider their moves in making his decision. He’s excited about new general manager John Dorsey as a talent evaluator and joked he’d fight a reporter who suggested the team won’t be a Super Bowl contender next season.
He laid out a scenario in which the Browns use their expected $100 million in salary cap space and the Nos. 1 and 4 draft picks to transform the winless team.
“Now let’s just say for instance they sign Kirk Cousins and they picked up, I don’t know who’s out in free agency, but the best skill player in free agency and you get the first and the fourth pick, whoever you want to take,” Thomas said. “Your team is really, really, really good all of a sudden overnight.
“And really if I think about where we were last year as a team, we weren’t that far away from winning a few games. Except for a couple very terrible mistakes, we probably would’ve been 3-13, 4-12 and all of a sudden now you infuse three or four Hall of Famers, I would argue you have a chance to win the Super Bowl.”
Despite the optimism, that’s a long shot. What’s certain is that Thomas has options outside of playing left tackle. He’s headed to ESPN headquarters in the next couple of weeks and is open to a broadcasting career.
“We’ll see. It’s too early in the process to really think about that,” he said. “I’ve always tried to keep doors open and I like football, I like talking football, I like watching football. So I think it would be a natural fit. I’m not sure if I’m definitely saying I would love it or I wouldn’t love it. But it might make sense down the line.”