Why Browns would be crazy to trade Joe Thomas
The Cleveland Browns are 2-6. With the Cincinnati Bengals undefeated at 7-0 the division is very close to already wrapped up, and nobody in Cleveland is kidding themselves into thinking their Wild Card playoff hopes are realistic.
That’s why talk like this has emerged: The Browns are considering trading center Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas.
Mack can opt out of his deal after this season, so trading him makes a certain degree of sense, as it does for 2013 first-round pick Barkevious Mingo, who has also wound up on the block.
But what about for Thomas, the NFL’s premier left tackle?
Thomas has a very team-friendly contract, with no guaranteed money, a roster bonus of just $1 million and a total cap hit of $9.5 million for 2016, and two more years after that in which his cap hit never exceeds $10 million according to overthecap.com. That figure would be the fifth-highest salary cap mark this season for left tackles, for a player who has been the best tackle in the game for almost the entirety of his NFL career.
As things stand, he is our top-ranked tackle with a grade of 94.6, firmly in the elite bracket and just clear of Dallas’ Tyron Smith in second place.
What is perhaps my favorite Joe Thomas stat is that he has missed one snap in his entire NFL career.
The Browns know they need ammunition to rebuild, but if you trade Thomas the first thing you need to do is make sure you have a viable left tackle in place. Cleveland has been spoiled by being able to forget about that spot and take it for granted for the last nine years, but it’s worth looking across the rest of the NFL landscape and appreciating just how much worse the situation can get.
Five tackles have already surrendered more than 30 total pressures this season. Thomas has allowed more than 30 in a season just once in his career, and averages only 23 over each season he has played.
Bad offensive tackles have the ability to almost single-handedly disrupt an offense, and it has never been more difficult to secure a quality tackle than right now. Even teams that take one in the top few picks of the draft are far from guaranteed success given the fortunes of recent seasons, and even those that are seeing the return in that investment have had to suffer through growing pains.
Thomas isn’t just one of the Browns best players, he is one of the best players in football, with a cap-friendly contract, a connection to the team and city, a desire to be part of the team’s turnaround and is showing no sign of declining play despite being over 30 years old.
There are players that the Browns might be wise to trade away – guys who have failed to live up to their billing or players that the team might realistically hope to replace from within without suffering too much of a drop-off in performance. Joe Thomas is not one of them. The chances of replacing Thomas directly and not experiencing a colossal weakening at the position is negligible. All trading Thomas does for you is open up a gaping wound in the roster that could take years to heal.