What the Browns are going through is not new to Joe Thomas.
Since Thomas was the third overall pick in the draft by the Browns in 2007, he’s had one winning season. And six in a row with at least 10 losses.
The Browns' overall record since Thomas was drafted: 37-73, basically one win in every three games.
Yet Thomas has been nothing but dependable and excellent in that time. He’s started 110 games at left tackle, the third-longest active streak among active linemen (behind D’Brickashaw Ferguson of the Jets and Eric Winston of Arizona). Thomas has not missed an offensive snap since he was drafted, and he’s on his way to his seventh Pro Bowl in seven seasons -- and probably a spot in Canton as well.
If the definition of professional is doing your best when you feel your worst, Thomas fits it perfectly. He gives everything he has every play of every game even though he’s been playing for a team that almost seems to have forgotten what it means to win.
Given his stature in the league -- Thomas has also been a finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Award for Community Service -- and his status with the team -- a captain -- his words always carry weight.
Here’s how he addressed the Browns' situation, and another season with double-digit losses: “Hopefully this is the last year.”
The problem is that Thomas said similar things last year, and the year before, and the year before, etc., etc.
“Obviously it’s not fun when you’re losing or when you finish the season with more losses than you do wins or the last couple games are not in the playoff hunt,” he said, adding: “Hopefully it’s going to be different next year. You just got to keep pushing forward. You can’t let yourself get frustrated. If you get frustrated, you get the tendency to think it’s helpless, or hopeless.”
Thomas said he thought the Browns would be in the playoff chase at this point, that when they started 3-2 and 4-5 it was a sign of good things. He still thinks if they had won one or two more close games they’d still be there, even though they’d be 6-8.
“Because of the way the AFC is,” he said.
He also knows that injuries to quarterbacks and the trade of Trent Richardson and the use of different backs hasn’t helped.
“You gotta play the hand that’s dealt,” he said. “And that was the hand that we were dealt with injuries and different things that happened throughout the season. It would be nice and it would be helpful to have one quarterback and running back throughout the season, but that was not in the cards this year.”
Thomas even was asked if he wondered if the Browns front office wanted to win this season, or if it was building for the following ones. Two draft picks last season were traded for picks in 2014, and Richardson was dealt for a first-round pick.
The running backs brought in after Richardson were little help, and the belief is the Browns knew this would be a tough season.
“I think that would be better served to ask those people in charge,” he said. “Obviously the players are doing everything they can and the coaches are doing everything they can. That’s the way it has been and the way it always will be.”
He said players are too busy during the season to wonder about that kind of thing.
“We can’t really worry about trying to break down the thoughts and mindset of the guys that are putting together the team personnel-wise,” he said.
When Thomas signed his contract extension two years ago, he said he did it because he believed in Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur.
Now he’s saying he believes in the new front office and coach Rob Chudzinski.
As he spoke, the clear thought came to mind: This is a guy who deserves better.