The tricep tear that Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas suffered in the third quarter of Sunday’s game on an otherwise non-descript run-blocking play ended the longest consecutive snaps streak in NFL history, landing him on injured reserve. The question that remains is whether or not it will end his career.
Not because he would not physically be unable to return from the injury—though such injuries especially after hitting your 30s seem to have a tendency of resulting in recurrences, or in tears to similar muscles—but because of the stress of the process it would take to recover and return to form.
For the Browns.
Thomas actually spoke to the media earlier this week and said, according to an article on the team’s website, that he was going to consider his future in the NFL during the offseason regardless of whether or not he was injured.
“I have a chance to maybe start my rehab and see how things are progressing and have that conversation with the family”, he told reporters. “Certainly I have got one more year on my contract and we will see how things shake out in the offseason”.
The third-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas was a plug-and-play franchise left tackle from day one, and played over 10,000 consecutive snaps from the very first play of his career up to his injury on Sunday—on what may prove to be his final snap.
The 32-year-old lineman, turning 33 in about a month and a week, said that offseason recovery has become an increasingly more important aspect of his football career. “You are pushing guys and you are blocking guys and you are punching guys for so many years, kind of with the same arm and the same motion that overtime”, he said.
“Your tendons, just like a lot of things in your body break down. Then it just takes that one play where they have been weakened and then all of the sudden that one play is sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
Thomas expressed optimism about the future trajectory of this Browns team, and he lamented that he might not be around to see it finally pay off, understanding that he is nearly at least the twilight of his career, if not the end.
He certainly did not plan for it to end this way. And the truth is that many players, who intend to retire, end up coming back when they get injured, unwilling to go out on those terms.
But what will Thomas be coming back to, in truth? The Browns have won just one game in their previous 22 over the course of the past two seasons. They’ve won four of their last 38. They keep benching their quarterback.
So many of his teammates, great players like Alex Mack, have sought greener pastures while Thomas remained. His is truly one of the greatest wastes of talent, relative to the success that it translated into for his team, in the history of sports, as far as I’m concerned.