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Joe Thomas retires after 11 seasons with the Browns. He deserved better

The future Hall of Famer won 53 games in 11 seasons with Cleveland.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Thomas, the lone bright spot on the continual storm cloud that is the Cleveland Browns franchise, will no longer be his team’s source of optimism. After 11 seasons and 10,363 consecutive snaps, the Browns announced the nine-time All-Pro is retiring after a storied run with the NFL’s most hopeless team.

“From the moment I was drafted, the city embraced me in a way that I could never fully describe. I am proud to call Cleveland home,” Thomas said, via the team’s release. “The loyalty and passion of the fans is unmatched and it was an honor to play in front of them from the past 11 years. I would like to thank all of the coaches, teammates, staff, fans and everyone who has shown me support throughout my career.

“Even though I will be hanging up my cleats, I will always be a Cleveland Brown.”

Thomas was in the starting lineup for a 10-win Browns season as a rookie, then stuck around for 10 straight losing years as Cleveland’s football team was the only club that failed to escape the inertia of northeastern Ohio. While the Cavaliers and Indians rose up to claim conference championships, the Browns remained as awful as ever, sinking to their nadir in an 0-16 2017.

That was Thomas’ breaking point. Not only did he have to witness the NFL’s second-ever 16-loss season, but he also had his play streak snapped when a torn tricep muscle ended his year after seven games.

The Browns tried to prepare for this eventuality by pursuing former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder in free agency. Solder had plenty of suitors, and he signed with the Giants, who offered him a four-year, $60 million deal.

Thomas told WKYC’s Dave Chudowsky in March that “the end is coming sooner than later.” Now it’s officially here.

What legacy does Thomas leave behind?

After years and years of trade rumors, it was Thomas and not an enticing offer from a rival team that ended his tenure in Cleveland. The 10-time Pro Bowler was a constant source of chatter at the NFL’s trade deadline, linked to potential deals with the Broncos, Seahawks, Falcons, and several other teams. He stayed loyal to the Browns throughout — until March 14, 2018.

Thomas deserved better. He was a plug-and-play starter from the moment he was drafted with the third overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft. The former Wisconsin standout protected Derek Anderson’s blindside throughout a 10-6 campaign — Cleveland’s most successful since 1994.

His accolades would pile up in the years that followed. Thomas was named to the Associated Press All-Pro team each year from 2009 to 2016, earning first-team honors six times. While his franchise cratered, the stalwart left tackle soared, establishing himself as one of the league’s most valuable players.

What’s next for Thomas?

Thomas has had some on-camera opportunities with the Browns. He’s got his own show, The Joe Thomas Hour, on the team’s website. His weather reports as the Browns’ chief meteorologist were a hit. Thomas has also teamed up with former teammate Andrew Hawkins for the ThomaHawk Podcast.

He explored some other broadcasting opportunities this offseason while he mulled retirement. Thomas had auditions with ESPN and FOX. FOX needs a broadcast team for Thursday Night Football, and Thomas was “particularly impressive,” according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post. Perhaps we’ll see Thomas in that role next season.