Why the Browns should explore moving Joe Thomas to a contender
The NFL's annual league meetings begin this week. Will the Browns use them to explore moving Joe Thomas to a contender like Seattle or Carolina? They should.
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- As NFL owners, coaches and general managers began arriving at the swanky Boca Raton Resort and Club for the league’s annual spring meeting, they did so with much of the offseason’s significant transactions already behind them. A bevy trades last week punctuated what had become a largely dormant free-agent market, bereft of much star power and with the big money already spent.
That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of chatter with all of the league’s powerbrokers assembled by the beach, and there are at least two more potentially huge trades that could be completed between now and the NFL Draft at the end of next month. Both could actually involve the Cleveland Browns -- a team most synonymous with inactivity this league year -- although I am not really buying the Browns’ front office has much actual interest in Colin Kaepernick, at least not close to the extent that it would require to actually execute a swap. However, there are plenty of execs who believe the Browns should and will explore moving veteran left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the few valuable commodities they retain on a threadbare roster.
First things first -- Thomas will never demand a trade. It’s not who he is. Heck, he won’t even request one. But, numerous sources have indicated to me, he would absolutely be welcome to the idea of being moved to a contender at this point, particularly after the Browns just left half of their remaining four starters along the offensive line walk in free agency. Cleveland is in the midst of yet another complete rebuild and they will quite likely be doing so with a rookie quarterback. The prospects of the Browns coming close to contending during the remainder of Thomas’s career are bleak even by their standards.
Thomas will turn 32 at the end of the 2016 season and he is signed through 2019. He has essentially $30 million left on his contract over the next three years, and given the recent spending spree that just went on, with guards being paid like tackles, etc., that is a bargain given how productive Thomas remains. But it’s become more clear than ever the Browns are prizing draft picks above all -- they have loaded up on 2017 compensatory picks whether by designs or frugality or a combination of both -- and they could conceivably swap Thomas, a player whose last best years will be largely wasted on a team at the bottom of the AFC North, for assets that could turn into multiple key starters.
A year ago they turned down a first-round pick from Denver for Thomas after Ryan Clady’s injury -- it was baffling in real-time and even more shocking with a year of hindsight -- and the new regime, led by recast holdover Sashi Brown, would be smart to try like hell to get a first-round selection for Thomas ahead of the draft.
Some in the organization believed dealing Thomas was going to end up as an offseason priority, though sources have said owner Jimmy Haslam seems less interested in that move. For whatever the reason, there has been little movement on the matter to this point, but it would be downright silly for the Browns not to use this annual league meeting as an opportunity to determine a market and gather information.
Trust me, it’s not like they have to worry about Thomas finding out they’re open to moving him and getting ticked off by it. If anything, I’d anticipate the prospect excites him.
Seattle, a team with an aggressive and bold general manager in John Schneider, has an opening at left tackle with injured Russell Okung moving on and the Seahawks not making a move in free agency. This kind of swashbuckling deal -- with the Seahawks picking 26th and still firmly in Super Bowl-now mode -- would be right up his alley. Some of his peers see him as a prime trade partner, though league sources have indicated that the slew of big contracts handed out by the Seahawks probably has to stop at some point, and they did just deal their top pick to take on tight end Jimmy Graham’s huge deal a year ago.
It doesn’t appear likely at this point, though with someone as cunning as Schneider I wouldn’t entirely rule it out, either.
You could make a case for several contenders to at least mull such a move. Would it make sense for the Ravens to cut bait on oft-injured Eugene Monroe and take a run at Thomas? It would take some cap gymnastics and the Browns might loathe dealing with a division rival and Baltimore wouldn’t be moving their high 2016 pick in any trade like this. So I’d call it highly doubtful, but worth pointing out.
Would it make sense for the Vikings, who aren’t exactly sold on Matt Kalil, to try to upgrade and really secure the blindside of emerging quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? Perhaps move Kalil and a pick to do so? Food for thought, at least.
Heaven knows Carolina could use better bookends to protect Cam Newton, as evidenced in the Super Bowl, and they have a very late pick in the first round. Can they survive another year with Michael Oher? Heck, at the rate New England has been flipping players, I couldn’t even entirely rule them out of this sort of sweepstakes. Perhaps the Patriots could move one of their younger tackles as part of a trade for Thomas, or for something else.
Some of these cap situations may be tight, but if I am an interested team I’m exploring this trade regardless and Thomas might be willing to get creative with his agents to facilitate a deal as well. Converting Thomas’s high base salaries to a signing bonus creates some immediate relief and the guaranteed portions of his contract have already been paid.
But given what has transpired in Cleveland this month -- or, more to the point, what hasn’t transpired in regards to any sort of move to improve the roster -- I would think any smart, contending franchise with something of a need at tackle would be trying to get some time with Cleveland’s rookie general manager this week. I know I would be.
Will someone pull the trigger and deal for Kaepernick?
If Colin Kaepernick is going to get dealt, this would be a good week to lay the foundation. I still hear the Broncos as being the team most interested in actually getting something done and, in the end, other clubs seem willing to call the 49ers' bluff about keeping the disgruntled quarterback, going ahead and guaranteeing him that $12 million he is due while coming off three surgeries and actually to move forward with Kaepernick as their starter and attempt to rebuild shattered relationships and trust issues.
More team notes
|The Broncos don't seem overly concerned about their poor quarterback position. Numerous execs and agents who have been in contact with John Elway say he is just as cool in private about the situation as he appears publically. I wouldn't bet on him over-bidding on Kaepernick and if does end up taking a flier on someone like Robert Griffin III, I would expect it to be at the team's price.|
|It's fairly telling that with winning teams like the Jets and Broncos without a starting quarterback right now, there is literally no buzz whatsoever about Nick Foles. It's like his play and that contract have made him toxic. You hear more rumbling about guys like Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer than you do Foles.|
|Of the remaining free agents, one who could still help a team is corner Patrick Robinson. He may end up taking another short-term deal in the end, but he played well for San Diego last year.|
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