BEREA, Ohio -- With just the right mix of self-deprecating humor and sincere feelings, Joe Thomas said with emotion Monday that the time had come for him to say goodbye to his NFL playing career.
"Goodbye not because I'm retiring, but because I'm merely changing jobs," Thomas told fans as he wiped away a tear. "From being your left tackle to being the No. 1 fan of the Cleveland Browns."
Thomas spoke to a full house of Browns employees, coaches and front office officials. Owner Jimmy Haslam joined Thomas' wife, Annie, in the front row with the couple's three children, and employees wore T-shirts that read "No Ordinary Joe."
Thomas started his remarks with several barbs that featured a rundown of his 11 years of struggle with the Browns.
He said Ray Farmer tried to text him, but he didn't get it because it was during a game and Farmer had been suspended -- a reference to the former general manager being suspended for texting the sideline during his tenure with the Browns.
Thomas said Kyle Shanahan put together a 32-page PowerPoint presentation trying to convince him not to retire, a reference to Shanahan putting together a detailed explanation why the Browns should let him out of his contract as offensive coordinator after the 2014 season.
Thomas said he wanted to talk to former coach Eric Mangini, but he would have had to ride a bus with him to Connecticut -- a reference to Mangini having Browns rookies bus to Connecticut and back to take part in Mangini's coaching clinic.
Thomas said former quarterback Brandon Weeden tried to text, but he still was caught under a giant American flag (something that happened before Weeden's first game in Cleveland); that former VP Sashi Brown tried to send information but didn't submit it on time (a reference to the botched trade deadline deal for AJ McCarron); and that Johnny Manziel tried to call him from a club but the "money phone" didn't have good service.
With Haslam listening and smiling, Thomas even described the Rob Chudzinski coaching era by saying "both those days were outstanding."
The jokes somehow seemed fitting from the guy who a day earlier had posted this on Twitter:
Does anyone make a toothpaste tube of butter? That's your million dollar idea @butterproject— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) March 19, 2018
There were plenty of serious moments. Thomas mentioned numerous people he wanted to thank, starting with Annie and his family and continuing through teammates, coaches (he credited former Browns line coach George Warhop for much of his growth), friends and front office types. Thomas even wiped his eye when the Cleveland chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America informed him that its player of the year award would henceforth be known as The Joe Thomas Award.
Thomas admitted that before he hurt his triceps in a loss to the Tennessee Titans last October -- an injury that ended his consecutive snaps streak at 10,363 -- he was already worried that he might not make it through the season. A knee issue plagued him the past few years and limited his practice time, ultimately leading to his retirement decision.
"I was feeling like I was in tough shape physically, my knee specifically," Thomas said. "I was concerned that I wasn't going to make it through the season. Not only that, but I was concerned that if I was going to make it, my performance was going to drop significantly because of what I had to go through to try to get the knee ready for Sunday.
"And sometimes it wasn't really feeling all that ready."
As for his success, the 10 Pro Bowls in 11 seasons and all the snaps, Thomas credited a basic mantra: Be on time, pay attention and work hard.
His plan is to move back to Wisconsin, where both his and Annie's families live. But he wants to remain connected to the Browns and Cleveland. Thomas saved his last and most passionate thanks for Browns fans.
"The passion, toughness and determination that you display on a daily basis is an inspiration for myself and for all of my teammates and all the people that wear 'Cleveland' across their chest," Thomas said. "You guys taught me what it means to be a Clevelander. Playing in front of the greatest fans in the NFL is easily the greatest honor that I've had in my 11-year career. I hope I was able to make you guys proud in the way that I was always proud when I told people boldly that 'I am a Cleveland Brown.' The excitement I had for my team and my city never wavered, no matter what the circumstances."
As he continued his voice cracked just a bit.
"So it is with all of this," he said, "that I must say goodbye."