Cleveland Browns Should’ve Traded Joe Thomas

The Cleveland Browns held onto left tackle Joe Thomas up through the 2016 National Football League trade deadline when doing so made little sense.

The Cleveland Browns are the worst team in the NFL in 2016. That’s not a hot take, nor is it an undeserved indictment of the team. The Browns are 0-8, the only team in the NFL that has yet to notch a victory this season. Not only has Cleveland lost every game the team has thus far played. It’s found astonishing, frustrating and infuriating ways to turn wins into losses—almost as if snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a badge of honor for the worst overall roster in pro football.

The Browns are clearly planning for the future past 2016. On Monday, the Browns acquired star linebacker Jamie Collins from the New England Patriots for a compensatory third-round pick, even though there is no guarantee Collins will remain with the club past Jan. 1, 2017. Collins, who turned 27 years old in October, was worth that type of risk and the Browns now have several months to negotiate with him. Cleveland could even use a franchise tag to keep Collins if they deem him worthy.

One man who cannot save the future of the Browns is left tackle Joe Thomas.

This is no knock on Thomas, who has been arguably the best offensive lineman of his generation. Thomas turns 32 years old in December, and he has never missed a game since being inserted into the starting lineup in his rookie season back in 2007. That’s a lot of mileage on the body of a man listed at 6-7 and 311 pounds.

The Browns clearly aren’t ready to win right now. While the current state of the NFL is built on the principle that a lousy team can compete for a playoff spot the following year, the harsh truth of the matter is that the Browns are not anywhere close to participating in the postseason right now. At best, the Browns are a few years away.

That is why the Browns should’ve traded Joe Thomas before the 2016 trade deadline. In reality, the Browns should’ve traded Thomas a year ago.

One day down the road, Thomas will deservedly have his number retired by the Browns. He will be enshrined in the club’s ring of honor, and he will be remembered as the best player in the history of the “new Browns” from 1999 up through the final year he plays for the franchise.

None of that erases the fact he is now only a business asset for the Browns.

It’s no secret there was a market out there for Thomas had the Browns actively and seriously pursued options. The New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, two clubs in the playoff hunt and two teams that could possibly win more than a few games in 2016, were possible options. The Browns whiffed when they didn’t trade Thomas to the Denver Broncos last fall. And they goofed again in not getting whatever they could for the veteran who is about to enter the twilight of his career.

There is no valid argument for the Browns retaining Thomas through the end of yet another lost season. Yes, trading Thomas would’ve hurt what has become a patchwork offensive line. The Browns are currently on pace to feature 12—yes, 12—different players at the quarterback position before the second day of 2017 rolls around. Things really couldn’t get much worse as it pertains to that situation.

When you’re tanking, which is exactly what the Browns are doing whether or not those running the franchise want to admit it, you fully embrace the project. You don’t push 99 percent of your chips into the center of the poker table when you’re short stack and are dealt a pair of aces. You go all-in, which is what the Browns should’ve done with the recent rebuilding process.

Thomas, tight end Gary Barnidge and cornerback Joe Haden are only three Cleveland players who should’ve been made available to other teams as of the final day in October.

What’s bothersome about the Browns not trading Thomas is the majority of Browns fans who post on social media websites and who call into local sports talk radio understand the team’s current state. They’re not living in denial. They get this is the worst team in football, a club that’s winning nothing of merit and one that is essentially in the middle of an extended preseason that is more about evaluating talent than about winning a title this year.

Now was the time to move on, to thank veteran players for their service to the Browns and say, with a loud voice, that the team was taking serious steps to move past the losing culture that has infected the franchise since 2008.

Thomas is not a problem for the Browns. On the contrary, he is undeniably one of the best players on the team’s roster. Father Time is undefeated, and he’s eventually going to earn a decisive victory over Thomas. Perhaps the Browns can land some draft picks by trading Thomas next spring. That, personal feelings aside, would be best for all involved.

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