The Cleveland Browns have made a lot of moves this offseason that one might be inclined to call improvements, though with a team that goes 1-31 over a two-year period, I guess you never really know.
Yet for all that they were able to accomplish via unrestricted free agency, the NFL Draft, and through trades, when all was said and done, they still lost their best player of the modern era. That would be left tackle Joe Thomas, who played over 10,000 consecutive snaps over a decade-plus-long streak, making All-Pros every year along the way.
Thomas suffered his first significant injury of his career last season, which resulted in him not just missing time, but going on injured reserve. Facing the prospect of a rehabilitation process in his 30s, and frankly playing for a team that hasn’t been competitive in a long time, he chose to retire after much deliberation.
And the Browns have no ready-made replacement to take over the job for him, though they have accumulated a number of options. While former Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Chris Hubbard doesn’t appear to be among the options, fixed at right guard, they did bring in another tackle, Donald Stephenson.
The veteran lineman was hit with a two-game suspension to start the 2018 season, however, and now, he appears to have chosen to retire as well. Entering his seventh season after spending time with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, he signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
Stephenson was a third-round pick of the Chiefs while current Browns general manager John Dorsey held that same post in Kansas City, so the connection was obvious. He started 21 games over the course of his career at both tackle spots, as well as at guard.
Cleveland did recently sign Greg Robinson, who is largely regarded as a first-round bust, but while he may never live up to his draft stock, there is the possibility of him still being developed into a competent starter. He is just one of multiple options the Browns will be considering, however.
Shon Coleman, a recent draft pick, was the player who entered the starting lineup following Thomas’ injury last season, and he will be in the competition to retain his job. Also under consideration will be rookie second-round pick Austin Corbett, Spencer Drango, and even Joel Bitonio, their sixth-year starting left guard, who could slide over if that is in the line’s best interest.
Outside of Bitonio, the Browns’ entire offensive linemen will (or could) be new within the past two seasons. They added Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter last season, now with Hubbard this year, and the next left tackle could be a new face as well. Even Coleman and Drango are entering their third seasons.