BEREA: Joe Thomas is only 26 years old, but he can envision spending his entire career with the Browns.
As Thomas prepares to enter the fifth and final season of his rookie contract, he isn’t flirting with the idea of taking his talents to another offensive line. He hopes to remain one of the most prominent sports figures in Northeast Ohio.
“I’ve always loved playing for the Browns,” Thomas said. “I love the fans. I love the city. I really see myself as a big member of the organization, and I really enjoy that. So certainly I would like to stay here. But you never know what’s gonna happen in the NFL. It’s a crazy league and anything could happen.”
If the Browns have it their way, nothing wild will unfold when they eventually try to sign Thomas to a contract extension. They are reportedly about $24 million under the 2011 salary cap of about $120 million, and General Manager Tom Heckert said he would rather spend money on retaining young talent than bringing in a bunch of free agents.
“That’s something that I’m sure we’ll look at down the line, but we’re not really too worried about that as of right now,” said Thomas, who’s set to make a base salary of $8 million this year. “I think my focus is just trying to learn the [West Coast] offense first and trying to help this team win some games. I think along with those [goals], the contract stuff takes care of itself. I’m sure at the end of the season or toward the end, there may be discussions. But right now, first things first. We’ll try to hit the ground running here in the first game.”
Re-signing Thomas is a no-brainer in the eyes of Heckert. He even laughed earlier this month when asked whether it’s on his agenda.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say that,” Heckert said.
Heckert’s stance is easy to understand. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Thomas has started all 64 games at left tackle since the Browns drafted him third overall in 2007. He has made the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons.
“I don’t think people realize how valuable Joe is as a left tackle,” center Alex Mack said. “You can just take the best rushers of any team, and Joe is consistently able to handle them. A lot of teams have to slide [another blocker] into them or game plan. The coaching staff is able to know that Joe does a good enough job studying, learning his technique and watching his opponents to be able to take care of the best pass rusher of every team.”
Coach Pat Shurmur, who’s in his first training camp with the Browns, has gained an appreciation for Thomas during the short time he has known him. Shurmur said he has been impressed with Thomas’ ability to mix finesse with strength.
“Joe is obviously one of the finer left tackles in the business,” said Shurmur, a former offensive lineman at Michigan State University. “[He’s a] very, very good pass protector. I guess what impressed me is that he’s a fine run blocker as well. Typically, you find a guy that’s good at one and average at others, but I think Joe is good in both phases, extremely good.
“He’s big, got long arms, got good feet, has balance and body control. He has pretty good power for a guy that’s a tackle, and he has a feel for the game. Usually, what makes a player good is kind of a combination, and he’s blessed with a lot of those things.”
As for Thomas’ thoughts about Shurmur, he has nothing but compliments for his new coach. Thomas has seen the signs of a positive change since Shurmur was hired to replace Eric Mangini in January.
“I’m really excited about the direction that the organization is headed,” Thomas said. “For the first time in my career here, I think everything is organized the correct way. There’s a good hierarchy. The people that are drafting the players have the same vision and goals for the team and the same philosophy as the people that are coaching. I just think that everybody’s rowing the boat in the same direction.”
The Browns want to ensure Thomas is aboard the ship for the long haul. A star left tackle can help weather the toughest storms.
“He’s real sound with technique,” left guard Eric Steinbach said. “He’s always the same type of guy. He doesn’t try to change his play for a guy he’s gonna face. He’s facing some of the best defensive ends in the NFL, and he’s just got the same technique week in and week out. I think that’s what separates him from other left tackles in the game.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.