Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

14 Mar 2018

Joe Thomas Retiring

Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas -- perhaps the best ever example of a great player on a bad team -- has announced his retirement.

The Browns used the third overall pick in the 2007 draft to take Thomas out of Wisconsin, and he proceeded to play each of their next 167 games and 10,363 offensive snaps. That streak ended when he tore his triceps in Week 7 last year, but it's actually a bad knee that is the biggest factor in Thomas' decision to hang up the pads.

Thomas made 10 Pro Bowls and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 14 Mar 2018

39 comments, Last at 21 Mar 2018, 11:21am by Hoodie_Sleeves


by theslothook :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 3:44pm

Some players really are coach, gm, and organization proof. A shame he has the same number of playoff appearances as I do. As appreciated as he is, the browns robbed him of a chance to be remembered as a top 5 all time left tackle, even though he might just be.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 4:27pm

Immediately slots in as the starting LT on the all-time "Didn't Deserve This" team, right? Like, selecting genuinely good players on teams that were basically always awful? You likely have Cortez Kennedy at one DT, maybe Archie Manning at QB? Barry Sanders at least had a little success, so not sure he fits at RB.

I'm going to spend the rest of my day thinking about this.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 4:28pm

Joe Thomas is probably the best player (since the merger, at least) to never make the playoffs. I took 15 minutes and tried to make a post-merger All Never Playoff team ('cause that's how I process these things), and this is what I came up with:

QB: Archie Manning (1971-1984, NO/HOU/MIN)
RB: Floyd Little (1967-1975, DEN)
RB: Sherman Smith (1976-1983, SEA/SD)
WR: Brandon Marshall (2006-NOW, DEN/MIA/CHI/NYJ/NYG)
WR: J.T. Smith (1978-1990, KC/PHO/WAS)
TE: Kellen Winslow Jr (2004-2013, CLE/TB/NE/NYJ)
OT: Joe Thomas (2007-2017, CLE)
OT: Matt Herkenoff (1976-1985, KC)
OG: Lance Smith (1985-1996, PHO/NYG)
OG: Tom Condon (1974-1985, KC/NE)
C: Darrick Brilz (1987-1998, SEA/CIN/WAS/SD)

DE: Aaron Schobel (2001-2009, BUF)
DT: Gerald McCoy (2010-NOW, TB)
DE: Muhammad Wilkerson (2011-NOW, NYJ)
LB: Charlie Weaver (1971-1981, DET/WAS)
LB: Takeo Spikes (1998-2012, CIN/BUF/SF/SD/PHI)
LB: Eric Hill (1989-1999, ARI/STL/SD)
LB: Ken Harvey (1988-1998, PHO/WAS)
DB: Nnamdi Asomugah (2003-2013, OAK/PHI/SF)
DB: Ray Brown (1971-1980, ATL/NO)
DB: Gary Barbaro (1976-1982, KC)
DB: Tom Myers (1972-1981, NO)

K: Rian Lindell (2000-2013, BUF/SEA/TB)
P: Brian Moorman (2001-2013, BUF/DAL)

by Will Allen :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 4:52pm

The w-l record of the Bears when Butkus and Sayers were there was pretty poor. Boy, how badly did George Halas lose his fastball after the '63 season, that he could have such dominant players on both sides of the ball, and couldn't fill out the roster any better than he did?

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 5:09pm

Pretty surprised Brandon Marshall has yet to make the playoffs.

by RickD :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 6:32pm

Broncos made the playoffs the year before his rookie year, and then didn't make it again until his second year in Miami.

He's been on five teams (Denver, Miami, Chicago, Jets, and Giants) that have all made the playoffs during his career. Just not while he was there.

I'd have sworn he had a playoff game as a Bronco. But nope. He was gone before the Tebow playoff run.

by justanothersteve :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 9:20am

Missed Butkus. He definitely deserves to be on this list.

by TomC :: Mon, 03/19/2018 - 6:37pm

Very late to the game here, but this comment made me do some poking around on PFR, and now I am furious at Halas for bungling the 1965 season (rookie year for both Butkus and Sayers). He insisted on platooning Billy Wade with Rudy Bukich for the first three games, all of which the Bears lost, and in which Bukich had 5 TDs, no picks, and a ~120 passer rating, while Wade had no TDs, 2 picks, and a passer rating below 50. When they finally sat Wade down for good, they went 9-2 but lost out on a playoff spot because the Western Conference was so tough (both Baltimore and Green Bay went 10-3-1). The Bears had the best team by all of PFR's metrics and regularly blew out good teams, once the QB situation was sorted.

The next big question is why they flopped the following season, because the arrow was clearly pointing up, as recognized by this hilarious piece in SI: https://www.si.com/vault/1966/09/12/612670/the-bears-come-blasting-in, but I've already wasted too much time on this.

by billprudden :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 5:35pm

Thanks for working on that list. Ken Harvey could play, man...

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 5:53pm

You have Little over Sayers?

by Will Allen :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 5:58pm

Sayers' career started before the merger, Little's was entirely post merger.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 6:14pm

Sayers started one year before Little

by Will Allen :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 8:10pm

Yes, the merger actually took place Little's rookie season

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 8:20pm

I thought the merger was in 1970.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 8:28pm

The merger was in 1970. The agreement to merge was in 1966. Usually, when people talk about "post-merger", they mean 1970.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 7:55am

Little started in 1967.

That's why I was confused. Most of Sayers and Little's careers overlapped.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 6:14pm

Gale Sayers at RB, though he was a shadow of his best by the time of the merger.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 7:29pm

I think I'm going to flesh this out into a full article and look up some more options there.

I didn't go with Sayers in this quick-fire because he only played four games post-merger, compared to Little's 73. That's a significant difference!

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 7:50pm

Very nice. I feel like another season or two and sadly Lavonte David will muscle his way onto this list.

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 8:31pm

There are quite a few current Bucs shooting up the rankings here, though I think I'll leave that for the full article.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 03/14/2018 - 11:32pm

Nnamdi Asomugha also deserves more than a mention. He might have been in the HoF had he not been on some historically bad teams. Put him on the first decade Pats or Steelers and he's got a good shot at Canton.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 10:40am

Really hard to know with Scrabble. Statistically he appeared to be a shutdown corner in Oakland but opposing teams never threw at him because there were much easier pickings elsewhere on the Raider defense.

by billprudden :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 11:04am

I feel like with these guys (avoided CBs) we have to look at a handful of 1:1 matchups with WRs that we know the offense is not willing to ignore. As both an extreme example and the inverse of what I mean about grading CBs, Dallas WR Michael Irvin got 6 games a year vs. HoF Darrell Green and 2x very good CBs in Aeneas Williams and Eric Allen. Killed 'em.

I remember some Raiders games vs. Detroit (Megatron) and Houston (Andre Johnson) where I went "dude can play".

by theslothook :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 12:40pm

His spectacular failure outside of OAK without an injury explanation was baffling. No one could explain it at all. He was in the meat if his prime. To me, that made me seriously question just how good he was in Oakland. Perhaps the rest of the cbs really were that bad

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:00pm

He was 30, not in the meat of his prime.

by Dan :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:14pm

He was 30 years old in his first season with Philly, which is not an unusual age for a CB to reach the end of their prime. Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain each had their last Pro Bowl season at age 28, Asante Samuel & Chris McAlister at 29, Darrelle Revis & Antonio Cromartie at 30.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Wed, 03/21/2018 - 11:21am

It's possible, but certainly not the norm to have a huge decline in ability at 30. I think its more likely that he went from a position where he was the strongest defender on a bad defense, across from a very bad cornerback, and largely ignored by offenses, to being the weakest defender in a great secondary.

I think he was a bit better than he looked in Philly, but a lot worse than he looked in Oakland. I think Chris Johnson and Stanford Rout made Nnamdi a lot of money.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:18pm

As I recall, in Oakland he was asked to play one particular position - LCB. The one on right-handed QBs blindside - that can be a later read and harder throw for the QB. He played man-to-man against whoever lined up there. He didn't follow the opposition's #1 receiver around the field as some DBs do. That was Al Davis's outdated ideas about defense.

In Philly he was expected to be part of a 5-man secondary that included Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel. I don't think he was used to his strength but also those two are decent cover corners so perhaps he got tested more.

Really loved the guy. He worked hard and gave his all for a series of crappy Raider teams. As per this thread, sadly never made it to the playoffs for all that effort.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:30pm

The reporting around him also always made it sound to me like he just didn't want to leave Oakland and so wasn't really ever all in elsewhere. I don't remember a lot of the specifics anymore, but I remember that he allegedly ate his lunch in his car alone and would spend all of his spare moments on the phone with Oakland charities he was involved with.

I still wonder why on earth he signed with the Eagles.

by jtr :: Fri, 03/16/2018 - 9:46am

>As I recall, in Oakland he was asked to play one particular position - LCB. The one on right-handed QBs blindside - that can be a later read and harder throw for the QB. He played man-to-man against whoever lined up there. He didn't follow the opposition's #1 receiver around the field as some DBs do. That was Al Davis's outdated ideas about defense.

That's still how defense is played for a large number of NFL teams. I just poked through the last Almanac, and in the 2016 season, the median team in FO's CB By Sides number was 74%--meaning that on average, a given corner was on his more common side 74% of the time. That's 50% more than the 50% that you would expect if corners moved all around the formation. A number of teams still play their corners very rigidly by sides--Seattle and Pittsburgh come to mind. For teams that play more zone than man, it doesn't really make sense to chase matchups anyways. Those teams feel it's more of a benefit to have their defenders get very comfortable with the techniques of a specific side--the right corner will always have the sideline to his right and the FS to his left, will always have his right hip pointed at the receiver in bail technique, etc.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:17pm

How am I only just now hearing about that nickname! Haha that's awesome. Time to google all-nickname teams

by serutan :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 2:16am

What about Tommy Nobis (ATL 1966-76)?

by jw124164 :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 10:36am

Just what I was thinking ... and Claude Humphrey too.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 10:50am

YES , WITH aFalcs btu then Humphrey oplayed in a super bowl with the Eagles. so he will not be part of this list

by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 1:32pm

Nobis is a good name, and I'll have to consider that one!

Humphrey ended up in the playoffs in three separate years! He cleared the Falcons Black Hole of Suck event horizon with room to spare.

by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 1:32pm

Nobis is a good name, and I'll have to consider that one!

Humphrey ended up in the playoffs in three separate years! He cleared the Falcons Black Hole of Suck event horizon with room to spare.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 03/19/2018 - 1:24pm

Found this today in PK's MMQB article. "... if Thomas makes the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he’d make it having played on teams with a .287 winning percentage. It’s believed that would be the worst of any player or coach to gain Hall entry."

by Theo :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 9:37am

A great player on a horrible team.
It seems as if CLE is slowly getting a grip on the wheel of the ship they are on.

by Guest789 :: Thu, 03/15/2018 - 10:29am

Sad that he has to retire in a year where it looks like Cleveland may actually be able to make some noise.