Could Joe Thomas follow the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Jason Witten, and Rob Gronkowski by unretiring and rejoining the Cleveland Browns?
The trend in the NFL these days is for veterans to make a comeback after a year away. The Patriots just shipped off Rob Gronkowski to the Buccaneers and will watch him un-retire with the Tampa-based squad. Marshawn Lynch retired from the Seahawks and joined the Raiders, only to return to Seattle. Jason Witten retired for a year from Dallas, returned to Dallas, and then left the Cowboys to go to the Raiders. With all of these men coming and going at a rate like never before, could the Cleveland Browns see their future Hall of Famer, Joe Thomas, unretire and come back to the game?
It’s unlikely a premise, but let’s run this one out, shall we?
First, let’s look at why he retired in the first place. According to Thomas on his Thomahawk podcast, Thomas revealed what lead to him retiring at the end of the 2017 season.
"As a competitor, you always think that you can do it, but there’s a point in your career … that you get to that crossroad and say, ‘I just can’t do it anymore. I just don’t have it in my body. My mind is good, but my body is not willing.’ And I think that’s where I am."
Mounting injuries were the reason why not his 2017-season ending triceps tear. Thomas retired young at only 33 and has had two years of time off to recover. Any type of comeback wouldn’t be for eleven more years, but a year or two at best. After getting his body into great shape, it’s not hard to think he’s mostly healed from past injuries.
So let’s now look for any hint of interest in a possible comeback. Thomas has not really entertained a comeback, at least publically. Often meeting anyone who asks with a bit of a joke answer. One person, who asked Thomas “…how many retweets for you to come out of retirement,” was met with a simple “1,000,000” reply.
That was from November of 2019, and it was very jokey in nature. Yet, several months earlier Thomas replied in a bit more serious tone, telling one fan that he’d come back at the right moment, in the right game but didn’t elaborate further. Did he mean a SuperBowl or could it be as a referee in the annual Puppy Bowl? Both seem just as likely at this point.
Thomas has teased a possible return but teased in a way more akin to how your older sibling blasts into your room on a weekday morning, shouting “Snow day!” and you get all excited, only to dash outside and realize that it’s 60 degrees and sunny.
So there’s no real outward desire for him to come back, that we’re aware of.
Yet, could he? Let’s play pretend and say Thomas wants to come back. He’s a good 50 pounds lighter than he was during his playing days. He was about 315-odd pounds, placing him at about 265 lbs currently. The Browns have reworked their offensive line and have three Pro Bowl quality starters and a great young prospect in Jedrick Wills who just so happens to be playing in Thomas’ old position.
So, would Thomas find a fit on this team assuming he didn’t gain/lose any weight? Yes, at right guard. While some have talked about the team using former starting right tackle Chris Hubbard, current starter but maligned guard Wyatt Teller and rookie IOL Nick Harris to fill the right guard spot, the fact we’re talking about three options for the position means that there is no obvious choice to pencil in there.
Would Thomas play right guard in this fictional scenario? Sure, he’s gotten his head kicked in for 11 years on bad teams, but he always re-signed with the Browns. Why? Because he loved the city and the franchise. Would he really pitch a fit having to move down the line if it means he could finally win? That doesn’t seem like him. Plus a lighter Thomas in a zone scheme means a pulling-Thomas and that seems like a problem for outside linebackers who wanna get daring.
It’s unlikely Thomas would return, even if just for one season on a winning team. Thomas seems content being in retirement and being able to pursue other interests, yet you can still see that passion for the game and love for the franchise even with everything else going on in his life.
Who knows, but don’t put money on Thomas ever coming back.