The Pro Football Hall of Fame might want to start preparing: Joe Thomas figures to be arriving in five years.
The 33-year-old left tackle announced Wednesday that he will retire after 11 standout seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
"This was an extremely difficult decision, but the right one for me and my family," Thomas said. "Playing in the NFL has taken a toll on my body and I can no longer physically compete at the level I need to.
"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. The loyalty and passion of the fans is unmatched and it was an honor to play in front of them [for] 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."
On his The ThomaHawk Show podcast, which he hosts with former wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, Thomas cited his knee injury as a key factor in his decision. He added that his knee was in its worst shape during the 2017 season.
"Looking down the barrel of a knee replacement, I think that definitely becomes a decision where you're like, hey, this football has been amazing, it's been more than I could ever have expected, but you have to take other things into consideration when you're deciding if you're going to play football anymore," Thomas said. "For the last two to three years of my career it's been impossible for me to practice. My knee would swell up so much and my back would get so tight. All the injuries add up, it's like a chain reaction."
Thomas was the model of consistent excellence for the Browns, from the day they drafted him third overall out of Wisconsin in 2007 until he tore his triceps tendon on Oct. 22.
That injury snapped a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps, believed to be the longest in NFL history. Thomas played every down of every game from the time he was drafted until that injury. And he played every down of every game at a high level.
In his 11 seasons, Thomas missed the Pro Bowl once -- last season because of the injury. Thomas' 10 Pro Bowls in 10 seasons are a Browns record, one year more than Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Lou Groza.
Only four other players in NFL history made the Pro Bowl in each of their first 10 seasons -- Merlin Olsen (14), Mel Renfro (10), Barry Sanders (10) and Lawrence Taylor (10). Thomas' feat is even more impressive given the Browns had one winning season during that span -- in his rookie season -- and he never played in a playoff game. The Browns in his tenure went 48-128, an average of 4.4 wins per season.
Yet Thomas never asked out. His attitude about playing in hopeless seasons was summed up in one simple quote midway through his career: "You still have a job to do."
Because of that attitude, and because of his high standard, Thomas was embraced by Cleveland, a city he made his year-round home. Browns fans appreciated his work ethic, enjoyed his sense of humor and admired the fact that Thomas never made it about him and never wanted to play for another team. Thomas is a rarity in sports -- an outstanding player who spent his entire career with the team that drafted him.
Even though he was encouraged the moves the Browns have made this offseason, Thomas said the decision to retire is final.
"Knowing my body, I don't think I was going to be able to make it through another season," he said. "No matter how much they were going to pay me, no matter how good the team is, it was not a matter of me being upset at the organization, sick of losing or my contract. I just don't think I could do it anymore. My mind is willing, but my body says 'enough.'"
Thomas' future could be in broadcast media. In January, he spent a day at ESPN working on various shows, and on the same day he was in Bristol, Connecticut, his first-person analysis of why it was smart for the Browns to retain coach Hue Jackson appeared on SI.com.
He said he has auditioned for color commentary opportunities on television and that he doesn't plan to take a full-time coaching or front-office role anywhere this season.
Along with his podcast, Thomas also hosted the Joe Thomas Hour on the team's website, a show he introduced as "the most exciting two minutes of your life."
Regardless of the next move in his career, Thomas will surely be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and seems a likely candidate to earn entry in his first year of eligibility.
"I'll always be a Browns fan. They'll always be my team," Thomas said.