CLEVELAND — Joe Thomas said he’s kept the Browns in the loop as he’s taken his time deciding whether to retire or play another season, but he still hadn’t made up his mind Tuesday night.
“As far as a decision goes, we’re still kind of working through that process,” Thomas said while speaking during an event for the Cleveland Chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance. “I’m keeping the Browns apprised of everything I’m doing and trying to make the best decision for myself and for the team, and when that decision comes, I’m not quite sure just yet, but I know hopefully it’ll be soon, right around the corner.”
The clock started ticking after Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle, suffered a torn left triceps tendon Oct. 22 blocking on a run play against the Tennessee Titans. It sped up when the offseason started, and the deadline for a decision was believed to be Wednesday, the start of free agency.
General manager John Dorsey didn’t sit on his hands while he waited for word from Thomas, 33.
The Browns agreed to a five-year deal with Steelers tackle Chris Hubbard worth approximately $37.5 million, including $18 million guaranteed, a league source confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram.
Broncos tackle Donald Stephenson agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, according to reports.
No contracts can be signed until the league year starts Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Hubbard was undrafted out of Alabama-Birmingham and has started 14 games in four seasons with the Steelers, all in the last two years. He has played all five line positions, with the majority of experience in Pittsburgh coming at right tackle.
He’s 6-foot-4, 286 pounds and will turn 27 next month.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the Browns plan to play Hubbard at right tackle or try him on the left side, assuming Thomas retires. He will be reunited with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who came over from Pittsburgh following the season and was there for Hubbard’s entire tenure.
Thomas has made 10 Pro Bowls in 11 years and is considered a future Hall of Famer. He was encouraged by the early offseason moves of Dorsey, including weekend trades that brought quarterback Tyrod Taylor, receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive back Damarious Randall.
“I think the future is really bright,” said Thomas, who went out a side exit and didn’t talk to a group of reporters. “Obviously, John Dorsey came here for a reason, because there was a ton of cap space, a ton of money that you can spend under the salary cap on new players, and obviously the draft picks that we have are pretty impressive, really unprecedented to have the first, the fourth (overall selections) and a couple early picks in the second round.
“So although the talent hasn’t been there for the team the last few years, the cupboards are not bare because of what we have coming down the pike in the next few years. For me as a player and for you guys as fans, it’s a great time to be a Cleveland Brown.”
Shon Coleman, a third-round pick in 2016, was the Browns starter at right tackle in 2017 but said he’s more comfortable on the left side and could get the chance to slide over if Thomas tells the team he’s done.
Patriots free agent Nate Solder is another option the Browns have considered but would be expensive. The Boston Globe, citing a source, reported Tuesday the Browns were making a “big run” at him.
Solder’s considered the best left tackle on the market. He was the No. 17 pick out of Colorado in 2011 and has started 95 of 98 games. He’s been at left tackle the last six years after playing right tackle as a rookie.
Solder, who will turn 30 on April 12, has won two Super Bowls with New England.
The Browns have competition for Solder, as the Texans are making a “serious run” to sign him, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Thomas is due a $3 million roster bonus Sunday, which would appear to be the drop-dead date for him to inform the Browns. His 2018 salary would be an additional $10.3 million.
If the Browns and Solder get serious about a deal, which would likely average $12 million-$14 million a year, the pressure will be on Thomas to decide.
He’s interviewed with ESPN and Fox Sports since the season ended and would likely take a media job if he retires.
Stephenson projects as a backup. His only year as a full-time starter was in 2016 with the Broncos and he struggled. He’s started 37 of 80 games played.
He spent three years with the Chiefs when Dorsey was the general manager.