The Cleveland Browns had one single piece of consistency throughout the majority of their second-term existence as an expansion team: left tackle Joe Thomas. He was the only person within the entire organization who could be consistently relied upon, playing every snap of his career right up until he suffered an injury in his final season in 2017.
It was right after he retired that the Browns appeared to finally enter a phase in which they might turn the franchise’s fortune around, of course, and that would mean that they would enter this next phase without one of their true bedrocks: a stud, first-ballot Hall of Fame left tackle.
The Browns went from Thomas to rookie college free agent Desmond Harrison, who opened the 2018 season as the starting left tackle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A raw but athletic player, the coaching staff for some reason took a chance on him even though he missed a lot of time due to injury and gave him that chance to start.
It did not go particularly well and Cleveland ended up turning eventually to Greg Robinson to man the left tackle position around midseason. He was re-signed to do so again in 2019 and beyond. Earlier this week, Harrison, on the other hand, was released.
The second-year tackle was late reporting for the first day of minicamp, and it appears that that was the last in a string of minor transgressions that finally proved to be the final straw. Tardiness and a lack of dedication were cited, anonymously and after the fact, as reasons for his release.
And yet he was couched in the language of a successor, somebody who could be a long-term piece, the left tackle of the future. He didn’t even make it out of his first season as a starter, or to his second training camp.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s off the NFL radar. The Arizona Cardinals, who had the highest waiver claim, chose to act on that right, and are bringing him in. The Cardinals, of course, also previously traded for former Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert earlier this offseason, so that is two tackles from the AFC North now in the NFC West.
Now that the Browns have the quarterback that they believe to be their franchise guy in Baker Mayfield, it is of paramount importance that they have quality and stability from the left tackle position. For now, Robinson will get the opportunity to show he can be that guy.
The only position along the line currently up for grabs is right guard after they traded Kevin Zeitler for Olivier Vernon. Joel Bitonio was an All-Pro at left guard last year, while J.C. Tretter and Chris Hubbard—the former Steeler—occupy the center and right tackle positions, respectively. 2018 second-round pick Austin Corbett is the favorite to win the right guard job and is one of the reasons they were comfortable trading Zeitler.