Browns reportedly chasing Patriots OT Nate Solder; could hint at Joe Thomas retirement

The Browns got heavily involved in the offensive-line market last offseason and might be doing so again, as they are reportedly in talks with former Patriots offensive lineman Nate Solder, according to a report from Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.

What makes this report interesting is it could mean Joe Thomas, who is expected to return to Cleveland after contemplating retirement and/or a move to becoming a media mogul, is actually deciding to walk away from football.

So, this is big on a bunch of different levels right? 

First up, the Patriots. They would love to keep Solder, who has been Tom Brady's blindside protector for a long time. The problem is Solder, at the age of 29, is only going to get one more crack at free agency. He would by far and away be the top offensive tackle available in this free agency class and would command a monster salary. The Browns, as Volin notes, have a ton of money and cap space. They can afford to give Solder top-of-the-market money at the tackle position. 

New England would be forced to figure things out on the fly, with potential left tackle candidates LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming also slated to be free agents. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald believes either/both guys could be retained at a pretty reasonable cost (less than two years, $9 million given to Marcus Cannon). Expect the Patriots to be proactive in re-upping one or both of those guys if Solder does walk.

For the Browns, this deal would be another investment in the offensive line after spending big on Joel Bitino (extension) and Kevin Zeitler/JC Tretter (free agency) last year. Cleveland already added Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry through free agency this offseason. Netting Solder as a replacement for Thomas and then potentially adding Saquon Barkley in the draft would be quite the overhaul on that side of the ball and make Cleveland's offense pretty intriguing heading into 2018.

Thomas retiring would be surprising, but not stunning. It was believed he would come back and that's the indication the Browns are giving out. On the other hand, one could argue he's really enjoying being a professional podcaster (I'm not joking) and starting to warm to the idea of being in the media instead of the trenches. 

But the Browns look completely different this year and might actually have a chance to compete (?!?). It would be tough for Thomas, who is a future Hall of Famer, to walk away and finally see the Browns succeed on the field. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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