How great was Joe Thomas?
He made football look easy.
Because for him it was.
He showed up in Berea in 2007, the third player taken — fortunately for the Browns, it was a no-brainer — in the first round of the NFL Draft, and for the next 11 years he dutifully protected the blind side for some of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history.
Didn’t matter to Joe.
His job was to keep his guy off his quarterback, and for 10,363 consecutive snaps, i.e., his entire career, he did exactly that — and he made it look easy.
Poor guy never got a sniff of the playoffs. In his 11 years in the league the Browns finished last in their division every year but two.
What a waste of a first-ballot Hall of Fame left tackle — after quarterback, probably the most important position on the field.
The Browns didn’t deserve a player as good as Joe Thomas. His level of play was so much higher than that of his team it was almost a joke.
For virtually every play in every game in every year of Thomas’ career, he would completely neutralize the defender opposite him, while chaos and ineptitude reigned all around him. The thought of Joe Thomas and Johnny Manziel in the same huddle is the definition of repugnant.
From his first day on the job, you could see Joe was a future Hall of Famer. From his first day on the job, Joe could see what he was up against: a franchise lost in the wilderness. Trapped in his team’s endless cycle of failure, he could have made himself the squeaky wheel, he could have complained about all the losing and demanded a trade.
The Browns’ record with Joe Thomas, a first-ballot Hall of Famer at left tackle, was 48-128. A winning percentage of .273.
Today, Browns officials shouldn’t be congratulating Joe.
They should be apologizing to him.
He never once publicly complained. He never bemoaned all the losing. He never publicly questioned management or coaching. Instead, he did his job, year after year, Pro Bowl after Pro Bowl, no trip to the playoffs after no trip to the playoffs.
He was what so many others wouldn’t have been under similar circumstances — a beacon of professionalism. Has there ever been a greater player stuck on a worse team? It’s a good thing Joe has a great sense of humor, because his career in Cleveland was no laughing matter.
But artistry is artistry, even under the worst of working conditions, and Joe Thomas was a pigskin Picasso in a barnyard of bovines.
Ironically, watching him at work was boring. Very boring.
He was almost TOO good for his position.
His strength. His technique. His intelligence. His Joe Thomas-ness.
He used all of that to dominate opposing players. It really did get boring watching him ply his trade, because the same sequence of events happened on almost every play:
The ball is snapped.
Joe engages his opponent.
The opponent tries to disengage.
The play is over.
The whole thing took less than 10 seconds, all of it with Joe in charge. Then he’d go back to the huddle, get the next play and repeat the process. Sometimes Joe would go whole possessions without ever leaving his feet. He rarely got his uniform dirty because his opponent rarely could do anything with him.
That’s when you know you’re pretty good at football.
Joe Thomas himself was never not good at football. Unfortunately the only team he played for in the NFL was always not good at football. Fortunately for Joe, that doesn’t matter. Your team’s competence has nothing to do with whether you will be voted into the Hall of Fame, which should be good news for Nick Chubb.
Joe Thomas sailed into the Canton canteen his first year on the ballot, and with good reason. He never missed a game. He never missed a snap. He never got hurt — until the end — and he was really, really good at football.
A case could be made that Joe Thomas is, after Jim Brown and Otto Graham, the third-greatest player in Browns history. Brown and Graham played on championship Browns teams.
Joe Thomas played with Johnny Manziel.
Thankfully, the Hall of Fame voters didn’t hold that against Joe, nor should they.
In the NFL Draft, a player has no control over which team will select him. For some players — Tom Brady, for example — being drafted by a good team, a well-run organization, can help a player’s case for eventual induction into the Hall of Fame.
But there’s also room at the inn for other potential Hall of Fame players who played for bad organizations their whole career.
Joe Thomas, an almost perfect football player, who deserved better than this, played 11 years for a team with a winning percentage of .273.
Sorry Joe … and congratulations.