Cleveland Browns legend Joe Thomas has decided his body can’t take anymore and he’s hanging up his cleats after 11 years in the NFL.
The guy has been an absolute legend for the Browns since they took him 3rd overall in the 2007 draft and people should have no issue with him being mentioned in the same breath as other Browns legends such as Otto Graham, Paul Brown, Jim Brown and Bernie Kosar. He should also be a first ballot Hall of Famer, without a doubt considering the fact that he has been at the very top of the game at his position even though all around him has stunk for years.
Although I’m sure all us Cleveland Browns fans are disappointed that our greatest player of the modern era has finally retired, no one can have a bad word to say against him because of the commitment and excellence he has shown to the franchise during his career. Even when there was the talk of the team letting him go to a team that could offer him a shot at a Super Bowl ring, Joe made it clear that he wanted to stay in Cleveland and finish his career with the team — absolute LEGEND!
Not wishing to sound like one of the media monkeys who throw so many comments around in the hope that something will stick, but I did say that I didn’t think he’d be back.
What Now for the Browns Offensive Line?
It was pretty evident that Joe had let the team know a while ago about his intention to retire and new GM John Dorsey wasted no time in recruiting some pieces from free agency to try and sure up the OL in Joe’s absence.
So far he’s brought in a couple of veterans from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos. They’ve both got decent amounts of playing time under their belts and will push for starting spots come the start of the 2018 NFL season.
As of right now, I think the team has a solid starting trio on the interior with J.C. Tretter at centre and Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler at the guard spots. They are decently backed up by Spencer Drango (I don’t like him at left tackle after he took over there when Joe Thomas suffered his tricep tear) as a guard and Austin Reiter at centre.
It’s the tackle spots that concern me the most but I now really like the signing of ex-Steelers tackle Chris Hubbard. He appears to me to be a possible rising star and solid member of any offensive line. I like the fact that we now have ex-Steelers OC as our OC who must know everything about Hubbard and the team was willing to pay him starting tackle money to come over to Cleveland. This can only say positive things about his play and potential.
The thing about him, though, is where is he going to play now that Joe Thomas has retired? He’s spent most of his time at right tackle but PFF rates him as a much better pass blocker than run blocker so I’m wondering if he’s been brought in as the future starting left tackle. I used an image in a previous post that shows him lined up next to the guy that kept him from starting in Pittsburgh at the right tackle spot, Marcus Gilbert, and couldn’t help but notice the size difference between the two.
This image shows Chris Hubbard lining up as a TE for the Steelers against the Colts on the right side of the line. It may be just me and my old-school ways of looking at the game, but I’ve always imagined your right tackle to be a big bruising bulldozer type who can clear a path for your running game whereas your left tackle is quicker and agiler to block those quick, agile edge-rushers trying to get to your QB on passing plays. Add to my observations about his size (I’m not saying he’s too small or anything like that) and the fact that PFF gives him a grade of 74.0 for pass blocking and just 47.4 for run blocking, I can’t help but think John Dorsey has already found his new left tackle.
There’s a good tweet in this post by Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) that shows Hubbard in action and looking good.
I might be completely wrong as John Dorsey seems to be catching most people out with the moves he’s making and I wonder if he will go in a completely different direction during the draft as well. Maybe Hubbard has indeed been brought in to be the starting right tackle, as the numbers of his contract would suggest, and they trade back from #4 or even up from the top of the second round, in the draft, and back into the first round like they did last year to grab TE David Njoku but this time pick up one of the three top tackles in this class to play at left tackle. Time will tell but I’d have to say that this is one of the most intriguing off-seasons I can remember.
Other than Hubbard, I’m really not excited by any of the tackles the team currently has on the roster. As I’ve said, I don’t like Spencer Drango at tackle but I do like him at guard and the only other names of note, to me, are Zach Banner, Shon Coleman and Rod Johnson.
None of these players fills me with absolute confidence but I’m still intrigued enough by Zach Banner and Rod Johnson as they are young and may very well turn out to be decent. Obviously, now that I’ve said that, they’ll probably get cut.
Johnson was a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft but ended up on IR so we haven’t seen enough of him yet other than some playing time in pre-season. Zach Banner was a fourth-round pick in the same draft (2017) by the Indianapolis Colts before they waived him and he was picked up by the Browns a day later. I’ll be honest and say that he’s another OT that I don’t know enough about and hence the reason why I’m intrigued by him and Rod Johnson. They will probably pan out to be nothing more than decent depth on the roster but, again, time will tell.
The other OT that Dorsey has brought in is Donald Stephenson from the Broncos. He played in Kansas City when Dorsey was there so he should know about him. He has experience but has never excelled, as far as I can see, and I don’t see him as anything other than an adder of depth to the roster. He’s only been given a one year $2.5 million deal which suggests they’ve told him to prove himself or he’s gone. From what I’ve read about him, he seems to be happy to sign this kind of contract and just take the money and run. I don’t envision much from Stephenson which means he’ll probably end up as the starting left tackle, lol.
I see the line coming along nicely but I’d feel happier if they can get one more OT on there. Left tackle or right tackle depends on what they have planned for Chris Hubbard. The line right now, for me, looks like:
LT Chris Hubbard
LG Joel Bitonio
C J.C. Tretter
RG Kevin Zeitler
RT Shon Coleman or Donald Stephenson
Even though I admire his work ethic of the last off-season when it was reported he’d stayed at the team’s facility during the off-season to train and get better, I’m not confident with last years starting RT Shon Coleman. He gave up way too many ‘false start’ and ‘holding’ penalties for my liking which makes him look like he might be out of his depth most of the time.
I’m sure that out of the guys they have on the roster, the Browns can find that other starting OT, but none of them leaps off the page to me at the moment.
Let’s see what John Dorsey and his front office has in store for us as they continue to make this their team!
Title image source: Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports