Thursday November 3rd, 2016

To the lay person and even veteran media, it doesn’t make a lot of sense why a player the caliber of Browns left tackle Joe Thomas would rather remain in Cleveland than be traded to a contender, as he maintained through Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Thomas is a generational left tackle, a franchise cornerstone. Six times he has been a first-team All-Pro, and he has been selected for the Pro Bowl after each of his first nine seasons. He is a master technician, durable and a pillar of the community. NFL players don’t come any better than Joe Thomas.

And yet the team he plays for is a punch line. The Browns finished 10–6 when he was a rookie in 2007 but didn’t make the playoffs. That was the high-water mark. Since then, the Browns haven’t sniffed the postseason, going 37–99. There are no signs that the Browns will improve. They’re 0–8 so far this season under a new coach, and could go 0–16. The team doesn’t have a quarterback, is now being run by a former baseball executive, and barely made an effort to retain some if its best free agents (including Thomas’s buddies and linemates C Alex Mack and RT Mitchell Schwartz), and looks to be at least a few years from even contending.

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It doesn’t take a football expert to know there’s a lot of bad offensive line play around the league, and many teams would be better with Thomas as their left tackle. Teams like the Seahawks, Panthers, Giants, Texans, Broncos, Patriots and Colts would all be vastly improved if they acquired Thomas. Conversely, the Browns could gain valuable assets for their future. Thomas, who at 31 doesn’t have forever to wait, would get a chance to play in the postseason and perhaps win a Super Bowl. A deal for Thomas would seem to be a win for everyone, yet the trade deadline came and went, and Thomas is still a Brown—sentenced to be a Brown, in the opinion of many.

There has to be a reason why so many players, like Thomas, choose to remain in their current downtrodden situations, and it has to be more than comfort and family considerations. Players like Thomas didn’t play football for money and glory, they played to compete and win games. If you’re stuck on the Browns, how can that be a good situation?

I recently got a chance to ask Thomas about his desire to remain with the Browns while working on a story about Mack, his former teammate and one of his best friends. I think Thomas’s answer sheds a lot of light on his thinking, and I now understand why winning is not always everything to some players.

“For me, I would say that the overarching reason that it's important for me to stay in Cleveland... when I was drafted here I really kind of embraced being a Clevelander,” says Thomas. “It feels like home to me. It almost... I wasn't born here (he was born in Wisconsin), but I can identify with the people that live here and that chip on that shoulder, and how they feel about their football team. They have so much passion and pride for the Cleveland Browns and we've been bad for so long.

“Imagine if you grew up in a place and the team was bad for a long time and there's almost like a pride in being able to stay here and stick it out, knowing that you're going to get to where you promised yourself and you've been promised at some point. You don't know when it's going to be, but you know the payoff is going to be so great and so amazing that you want to finish your career there. I feel in many ways that's the most important thing to me. When I was drafted in Cleveland, I wanted to turn this team back into a perennial playoff contender and to win the Super Bowl. And I feel like that obviously hasn't happened yet. For me I'm very goal oriented and I want to make that happen. I feel like that's unfinished business and that really irks in my craw, that I need to do this before I can be done. I think that's kind of how it is.

“The analogy I tried to make was your home team was bad forever, you wouldn’t just switch allegiances to the team that was good at that time. You're still cheering for your team. When I was a kid, the Packers were terrible until was like 12 or 13. Suddenly they get Brett Favre and Reggie White and they got to the Super Bowl with Mike Holmgren and they're awesome and it's like the greatest thing on Earth. And that's kind of how in my head I am. I'm a Cleveland Brown, that’s who I am and I'm not going to change allegiances just to get a Super Bowl title. I want to do it as a Cleveland Brown because that's who I am.”

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Blanket Report

Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature league storylines.

Go crazy, folks:

Teams overvalue draft picks at the trade deadline: So the NFL trade deadline came and went, and no one of significance relocated. And that’s too bad, because some contenders had holes that they could have addressed. Why the lack of action? Mostly because teams don’t want to part with their beloved draft picks. I’m totally on board with the draft being the lifeblood of a team and I loathe free agency, but I’ve never understood why a contending team wouldn’t part with a second-round pick for a proven player that they not only know can play in the NFL, but one that has been a difference maker. If you hit on draft picks 50% of the time, that’s a good rate. If there’s little downside to acquiring a proven player, I’ve never understood why you wouldn’t do it. The Patriots got Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007 for second-, fourth- and seventh-round selections. Talk about great moves. Hey contending NFL teams, pry your overrated draft picks from your hands and use them to actually do something.

Replay fails at a crucial time: In a story that hasn’t received much attention (likely because it wasn’t a national game and it happened to the way-out-West Cardinals), the 46-yard fumble return by Panthers LB Thomas Davis for the opening score in Sunday’s 30–20 Carolina victory never should have happened. The Fox feed wasn’t available at Bank of America Stadium nor the NFL’s officiating headquarters in New York on that play because the system had failed and was being rebooted. A league source said that once the feed was available, it was determined that the play should have been ruled an incomplete pass and the Cardinals should have faced 4th-and-6. That’s a huge screw up on a big play, (but it’s still no excuse for Arizona falling behind 24-0.)

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Slow your roll:

Turner’s departure could work out for Vikings: It’s certainly unorthodox to have the offensive coordinator of a 5-2 team resign in the middle of the season like Norv Turner did this week. And reading the tea leaves, it’s likely that coach Mike Zimmer made some pointed criticism toward Turner and wanted some changes in the offense going forward and Turner wouldn’t relent (Turner told ESPN the two had different views on the offense; Zimmer denied any disagreements). But in my opinion, Zimmer was right. Given the injury issues on the offensive line and the talent on the Vikings, Turner’s refusal to dump his deep-drop and longer developing plays were a big reason why the Vikings were trounced by the Eagles and the Bears in consecutive weeks. Turner needed to change his offense for the Vikings to function, and if he wasn’t going to do it, he needed to go. Turner’s replacement, Pat Shurmur, favors more of the West Coast offense, short and timed passing game that the Vikings will need to use to get out of their rut. Maybe the way it went down wasn’t right, but Turner’s departure could end up helping the team in the long run.

Jamie Collins was/is a good player: If you listened to the chatter out of New England in the wake of the Jamie Collins trade from the Patriots to the Browns, you’d think Collins was some third-rate, untamed athlete who has trouble taking to coaching and that the Patriots washed their hands of him. The fact is, we’ll never know why Bill Belichick jettisoned his once promising star who appeared to be on the precipice of being a perennial All-Pro before slumping this season (best guess: Collins had underachieved most of the season and once rookie Elandon Roberts proved to be an acceptable replacement, Belichick decided to get his similarly underachieving unit back in line by shipping Collins to NFL Siberia). But to say that Collins freelanced a lot, or that he took plays off (those in tandem suggest he wasn’t a good teammate) is fundamentally false. Collins was a good player who was inconsistent and by the middle of his fourth season it appeared he was never going to realize his potential. Just leave him be.

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10 thoughts on Week 9

1. The Ravens, coming off a bye week, should get LT Ronnie Stanley and RG Marshal Yanda back on the field, and that’s a huge boost to the offense. But if Joe Flacco and the receivers can’t win consistently against a Steelers secondary that can be taken advantage of, the Ravens have no shot at an upset. On paper, the Steelers should be able to run the ball well on Baltimore, but the sum of the Ravens’ run defense has been better than its parts.

2. I’m interested to see Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton go up against Cowboys C Travis Frederick and RG Zack Martin, who are the best in the business. Shelton, after playing very heavy last season and poorly, has had a great comeback in his sophomore campaign. A great performance against Dallas would be a big accomplishment for him.

3. The Eagles can’t rely on their short passing game again if they want to beat the Giants. Philadelphia lost at Dallas in part because it got too conservative. The Giants’ defense has been playing better but you can make big plays against them if you’re aggressive.

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4. The first assignment for new Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur: build in more help for the tackles in the pass game, even if that means going max protection for some down-field shots. The Lions will get after Sam Bradford with Ziggy Ansah and Kerry Hyder and pull an upset if Minnesota lets them.

5. Sunday’s matchup with the Jets will be a big test for the new-look Dolphins. The tendency is to want to stay away from the Jets’ defensive line and just open things up with the pass and target their weak secondary. But Ryan Tannehill is not the conduit for this offense now, RB Jay Ajayi is. And the Jets can be run on despite their talent.

6. Matchup alert: Rams DT Aaron Donald vs. Panthers RG Trai Turner. Not quite the heavyweight bout it looked like in the preseason when some magazine put both players on regional covers (ahem) because Turner has taken a small step back. But these are two of the best young athletic players on both sides of the interior line, and they’ll be a lot of fun to watch.

7. I’m smelling an AFL-type shootout between the Colts and Packers. Expect QBs Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck to give us a treat, even though the Colts continue to struggle.

8. Derek Carr’s MVP candidacy will sink or swim in his two matchups with the great Broncos defense (the first is Sunday), but expect running back Latavius Murray to be the real x-factor in this one. The best way to beat the Broncos is to run on them.

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9. Expect a low-scoring affair between the Bills and Seahawks. Both teams need to run the ball well and should be able to against each of these defenses. Russell Wilson will get pounded if the Seahawks try to get away from the run.

10. This week in FootballOutsider.com’s brilliance: clutch field goal kicking. “Kickers are horrible this year when it comes to clutch kicks, the field goals that would tie a game or put a team ahead in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime. It's been especially ridiculous the last two weeks. In Weeks 7 and 8, there were six different misses on game-winning field goals. For the year, kickers are 15-of-25 on these field goals (60 percent). By comparison, kickers hit 38-of-53 on these kicks in 2015 (72%) including 19-of-22 in Weeks 1-8 (86%). In 2014, kickers hit 29-of-39 clutch field goals (74%) including 21-of-26 in Weeks 1-8 (81%).”

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