Joe Thomas announces retirement, leaves gaping hole on Browns' offensive line

After taking roughly two months to think things over, Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas has decided to retire. 

The 10-time Pro Bowler made the announcement on Wednesday, just before the start of free agency. 

"This was an extremely difficult decision, but the right one for me and my family," Thomas said in a statement. "Playing in the NFL has taken a toll on my body and I can no longer physically compete at the level I need to." 

Thomas will go down as the one of the best left tackles in NFL history. After being selected with the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas went on to play in every snap of every Browns game for the next 10 and a half seasons. Thomas didn't miss his first snap until October 2017, and it took a torn triceps for him to miss that snap after being on the field for 10,363 consecutive plays dating back to 2007

The Wisconsin-native fully embraced Cleveland, despite the team's lack of success during his time there. 

"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," Thomas said. "The loyalty and passion of the fans is unmatched and it was an honor to play in front of them from 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."

For Thomas, this clearly wasn't an easy decision. The 33-year-old, who was named an All-Pro six times, was undecided on his future as recently as Tuesday. 

"As far as a decision goes, we're still kind of working through that process," Thomas said on March 13, via cleveland.com. "I'm keeping the Browns apprised of everything I'm doing and trying to make the best decision for myself and for the team, and when that decision comes, I'm not quite sure just yet, but I know hopefully it'll be soon, right around the corner."

Not even the the Browns' plethora of impressive offseason trades was enough to get Thomas to stick around for another season. 

With Thomas keeping them apprised of the situation, the Browns clearly felt that he was leaning toward retirement and you only have to look at their free agency plans to realize that. In the 48 hours since legal tampering started on Monday, the Browns have already added two tackles -- Don Stephenson and former Steelers lineman Chris Hubbard -- in free agency. 

The team also made a play for former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder before he signed with the Giants on Wednesday. The Browns are in desperate need of tackle help because they don't currently have anyone on the roster who will be a good substitute for Thomas at left tackle. 

Speaking of Thomas, he'll definitely be on the field for at least one game in Cleveland this season and that's because the Browns plan to honor him. The team will be inducting the number 10,363 into their Ring of Honor, which will be a fitting way to mark Thomas' time with the team. 

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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