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Commentary: Remarkable, reliable Joe Thomas ranks among best to ever play for Browns

Is Joe Thomas the greatest Cleveland Browns player ever?

It’s a question worth asking now, because the Joe Thomas Train could be pulling into the station for the final time.

In case you hadn’t heard, Thomas is mulling retirement, because of three factors that seem pretty obvious, even to those of us who are not Joe Thomas:

1. He’s 33, and his body is beat up from playing 11 years in the most violent sport in America.

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2. He’s lost considerable weight after major, season-ending surgery to repair a torn triceps.

3. Even if he rehabs the injury, gets back up to his playing weight, pushes aside all the other aches and pains he feels day and night and is mentally prepared for another year of NFL football, he’s still stuck playing for arguably the worst team in NFL history.

Given all that, nobody should be surprised if Thomas decides to walk (limp?) away from the game he’s played at the highest level for 11 Hall of Fame-caliber years.

The argument for not retiring would be, and would only be, his 2018 salary of $13.5 million.

The Browns have always gotten their money’s worth on Thomas, while Thomas has always gotten stiffed by the Browns.

Elite left tackles don’t grow on trees. Elite left tackles that never miss a game can’t be propagated in a laboratory. Elite left tackles that play an entire decade without missing a single snap?

Good luck finding one of those.

Because there’s ONLY one.

He’s Joe Thomas, who might be the greatest Cleveland Browns player ever.

Shame on the Browns for wasting 10 years of having the best left tackle in the game on their roster — and not having a clue on how to build a team around him.

Thomas is the all-time poster boy for an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

From the day the Browns drafted him in 2007 until his triceps gave out Oct. 22, 2017, Thomas played 10,363 consecutive snaps. In other words, all of them. In a sport of brutal physicality and dangerously ferocious collisions, a sport in which, it seems, everyone gets hurt and misses games all the time, Joe Thomas missed none.

None.

He was Cal Ripken in shoulder pads.

In his 10½ years on the job, Thomas made greatness look easy while the Browns made winning look hard.

He didn’t deserve them, and they didn’t deserve him.

There are 21 Browns players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thomas will be No. 22, but the first since Ozzie Newsome, who played his last game for the Browns in 1990.

Despite that, young whippersnappers might be interested to know that the Browns were once a storied franchise, thanks to some legendary names who did some historic things. But Thomas might be the greatest of them all. If he does decide to retire, he will be able to say that for 10½ years he played every single snap, until suffering a career-ending injury.

As Babe Ruth said after belting his 60th home run in 1927, “Let’s see some other SOB match that.”

Thomas’ herculean consecutive snaps record, by itself, at least gets him into the elite eight of greatest Browns players ever. The fact that he was for most of those 10½ years the best in the sport at his position pushes him further up the ladder.

Greatest Browns player ever?

Here are three worth considering: Jim Brown, Otto Graham and Joe Thomas.

Pro Bowl selections: Thomas 10, Brown nine, Graham five.

First-team All-Pro selections: Brown eight, Graham seven, Thomas six.

Brown’s numbers would be even better had he not prematurely retired at age 29, after nine seasons.

Pro Football Reference has a stat called “Approximate Value,” which is an attempt to put a single number on the seasonal value of a player, based on numerous statistical factors. It appears to be the football equivalent of the WAR stat for baseball.

On the Browns’ list for highest career AV (Approximate Value) since 1960, you’d probably be as surprised as I was to see that No. 1 on that list is Clay Mathews, with an AV of 124.

The next four on the list: Brown (122), Dick Schafrath (115), Gene Hickerson (111) and Thomas (106).

Interestingly, three of the five are offensive linemen: Schafrath and Hickerson, who were the left tackle and right guard on the offensive lines that blocked for Brown, and Thomas, who was the left tackle on the line that blocked for Fozzy Whittaker.

Thomas was not only a great player, he’s a great guy. Perhaps the most low-maintenance superstar in a league filled with divas and egos. If he’s not the greatest Browns player ever, he’s close.

And if he goes into TV work he’ll certainly be the greatest sportscaster ever with a torn triceps.

Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or [email protected] Follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.

Jim Ingraham is a sports columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette. Contact him at 329-7135 or [email protected] and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter

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