Joe Thomas wasn’t just one of the best offensive linemen in Cleveland Browns franchise history. He also belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of the team’s all-time greats.
Thomas, who spent his entire eleven-year pro football career in northeastern Ohio, is right up there with Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Ozzie Newsome, Paul Warfield, Dante Lavelli, and Leroy Kelly, to name a few.
Thomas played an incredible 10,363 consecutive snaps and allowed just 30 sacks during his time in Cleveland.
Although the Browns’ never-ending quarterback carousel contributed to their shortcomings during Thomas’s heyday, he was always an immovable force on their offensive line.
Little wonder Thomas earned ten career Pro Bowl berths and six First-Team All-Pro selections from 2007 to 2017.
This is Joe Thomas’s remarkable story on the gridiron.
Joseph Hayden “Joe” Thomas was born to parents Eric and Sally in Brookfield, WI on December 4, 1984. Joe has two siblings.
His dad, Eric, worked as a banker to help make ends meet.
Eric and Sally thought sports, hunting, and fishing were essential to bringing up their children and making them well-rounded individuals, per Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King.
Joe Thomas is a certified outdoorsman. He told The Plain Dealer in 2010 that he learned fishing when he was just two years old in Northern Wisconsin.
On the other hand, he learned how to hunt when he was 13 years old.
Good memories! Thanks for jogging my brain@DArcyEganPD and I caught a musky each from there in the summer of 2008 with the great fishing guide; Bob Tamasco on the Outdoors Ohio TV show
— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) September 2, 2022
Joe played football, baseball, basketball, and soccer as a kid growing up in the Badger State.
However, Joe could only play those sports if he did his homework and finished his chores. His parents acted like NFL head coaches to ensure he complied with their household rules.
“I’d get fined if I left home without making my bed in the morning,” Thomas told Sports Illustrated during the week of the 2007 NFL Draft.
One of Joe’s lowest points in junior high school was receiving a C in eighth-grade algebra.
His parents promptly grounded him and forbade him from going out with his friends for three months.
His dad thought he was talented in math. Joe made up for his disappointing algebra mark by acing all his quizzes and tests the following term.
Before long, Joe earned an A in algebra and more freedom to hang out with his buddies. He considered the experience a very important life lesson several years later.
High School Career
Joe Thomas attended Brookfield Central High School. He played on offense, defense, and special teams for the Brookfield Lancers.
Thomas was a Jack of all trades who took to the high school gridiron as an offensive lineman, tight end, punter, and defensive end.
Joe reached his peak weight of 250 pounds in high school by consuming peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every half hour on top of his three meals daily, per Men’s Health‘s Josh St. Clair.
— WISportsAwards (@WISportsAwards) April 10, 2015
Thomas capped off his day of bingeing food with a glass of whole milk measuring 30 to 35 ounces before going to bed.
Joe earned several accolades during his high school football career, including:
- PrepStar All-American
- USA TODAY All-American
- Detroit Free Press All-Midwest Team
- Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) 2002 Defensive Player of the Year
Thomas decided to remain in-state and commit to the Wisconsin Badgers. He eventually evolved into one of Badgers head football coach Barry Alvarez’s pillars on the offensive line from 2004 to 2006.
College Days with the Wisconsin Badgers
Joe Thomas attended the University of Wisconsin from 2003 to 2006.
Thomas saw time at tight end and defensive tackle for the Badgers in this true freshman season in 2003.
Wisconsin head football coach Barry Alvarez moved Joe to the left tackle position as a sophomore in 2004. Thomas would eventually flourish on the Badgers’ offensive line for the next three seasons.
Prior to the move, Thomas weighed an undersized 250 pounds. He had to put on more weight to excel at left tackle for the Badgers.
Thomas had to gorge on food and consume a creamy drink consisting of 980 calories—mainly fats. Before long, he had gained 30 pounds in just a few months.
Thomas added 10 pounds to his massive frame every year until he tipped the scales at 310 pounds during his college days.
In Joe Thomas’s 38 starts at left tackle for the Badgers from 2004 to 2006, he surrendered just five sacks.
Wisconsin averaged ten wins per season from Thomas’s sophomore season until his senior campaign. The Badgers won two consecutive Capital One Bowl games in his last two seasons in Madison, WI.
One low point in Thomas’s college football career occurred in Wisconsin’s 24-10 win against the Auburn Tigers in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
💪 NFL iron man
⭐️ Pro Bowler
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) February 21, 2017
The Badgers were missing two key defensive ends due to injuries during the lead-up to the game.
Thomas, who played defensive end during his high school days, told Alvarez he could pick up the slack on Wisconsin’s defensive line.
Joe checked in during the third quarter against the Tigers. Unfortunately, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) when he tried pursuing the ball carrier on a sweep to the other side of the field.
Despite the horrific end to Thomas’s junior season, he had no regrets.
“We won, I got to play defense, and I think I helped the team win,” Thomas told Sports Illustrated two years later. “The decision I made was best for the team, so it was best for me.”
Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Palcic told King that Thomas was always sincere whenever he mentioned those things.
Thomas put in the work during the offseason and returned with a vengeance for his senior campaign in 2006.
Joe gave up just one sack and one quarterback pressure in Wisconsin’s memorable 12-1 win-loss season.
Thomas surrendered that lone sack in the Badgers’ season opener against the Bowling Green Falcons in the fall of 2006.
He admitted to King that he felt embarrassed and humiliated. For Thomas, that gaffe magnified the importance of the left tackle and cornerback positions in football. If either player gave up a huge play to the opposition, he was not doing his job.
Thomas used that lone sack against Bowling Green to fire him up for the rest of the 2006 NCAA season. He vowed never to let that happen again, and it did not.
Consequently, Joe Thomas won the 2006 Outland Trophy as the best college football interior lineman in the country. He also became a Unanimous All-American and earned his second consecutive First-Team All-Big-Ten selection that year.
A Bold Prediction
Palcic made a bold prediction: he envisioned Joe Thomas becoming a first-rate offensive lineman in the National Football League.
“I coached Jonathan Ogden and Tony Boselli in college years ago, and Joe’s going to be every bit the player they’ve been,” Palcic told King. “I don’t see a weakness in him.”
Joe Thomas has a message for
Badger Nation… pic.twitter.com/OBsLQY1dRD
— IKE Badgers Podcast (@IKE_Badgers) September 19, 2019
Bob Palcic must have been clairvoyant. Joe Thomas eventually set the bar high for left tackles as his pro football career evolved.
For all of Thomas’s accomplishments on the college gridiron, he was one of the smartest offensive linemen in the country. He had a cumulative 3.5 GPA entering his final semester at Wisconsin in 2007, per Sports Illustrated.
Joe impressed his real estate and urban land economics professor, Sharon McCabe.
She told Sports Illustrated Thomas earned A’s in those two classes without pushing for longer deadlines for any of his papers and projects because of his football schedule.
Thomas proposed to his girlfriend Annie Nelson, a former Badgers women’s basketball player, during his decorated college football career with the Badgers
Nelson told Sports Illustrated that she’d had no desire to go out with a football player.
When she began dating Thomas, she tried to size him up and look for any imperfections. She could not.
When Thomas retired from the NFL in March 2018, Badgers head football coach Barry Alvarez told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he had been the best offensive lineman in the program’s history.
Joe Thomas’s ascent in the pro football ranks did not come easy. He was at front and center in the Cleveland Browns’ never-ending quarterback carousel during his eleven-year tenure in Northeast Ohio.
Worse, the Browns were hardly playoff contenders when Joe Thomas played for them.
Nevertheless, Thomas cemented his legacy as one of the best offensive tackles in Cleveland Browns franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Cleveland Browns made Joe Thomas the third overall selection of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Thomas did not exactly relish his experience at the 2007 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN.
Some of the questions reporters asked him threw him off. He remembered two of the weirdest questions they asked him were:
- Why did he not want to stare a gift horse in the mouth?
- Would he rather be a cat or a dog?
Prior to the draft festivities in the Big Apple, Thomas told King his fondest memories were fishing with his dad, Eric.
Instead of going up to the stage after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called his name, Thomas spent the day fishing with his father in Northern Wisconsin. When the Browns made him the third overall pick, they called him on his cell phone.
“Draft day’s not the important day,” Thomas told Sports Illustrated in the spring of 2007. “It’s what I do after draft day that’s important.”
Joe Thomas certainly exceeded expectations in his eleven seasons with the Cleveland Browns from 2007 to 2017.
King asked five coaches with selections in the draft’s Top 10 about their opinions on the highly-touted big man from Wisconsin.
All five of them were unanimous in their belief that Joe Thomas was going to become a first-rate offensive tackle. Two of those coaches were the Arizona Cardinals’ Ken Whisenhunt and the Houston Texans’ Gary Kubiak.
Thomas, who used the fear of failure to work hard on the gridiron, told King his yearly goal in the NFL was not to allow any sacks or quarterback pressures. Falling short of those goals would be a disappointment.
Weight and Health
Joe Thomas’s weight peaked at 325 pounds during his eleven-year NFL career.
“Getting up to 325 pounds in the NFL helped me in the run game when trying to move people,” Thomas explained to Men’s Health in 2019. “In the pass game, I was harder to bull rush.”
— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) September 6, 2022
While most offensive linemen were nervous during weigh-ins because their coaches might fine them for being overweight, Thomas felt the exact opposite.
He was nervous he would be too light to excel at the left tackle position in the NFL he told Men’s Health if he did not eat a heavy meal every two hours, he feared he was losing weight.
Going without food for that long also drove him over the edge. He told the publication he would resort to extreme measures whenever he was hungry.
“If I went two hours without food, I could have eaten somebody’s arm,” Thomas said in 2019. “I was starving. I was probably not a fun person to be around.”
Weighing more than 350 pounds had its downsides. Thomas told Men’s Health he had frequent heartburn when he played for the Browns.
He also suspected he had sleep apnea. His wife Annie noticed he sometimes stopped breathing when he slept at night.
Thomas vs. Taylor
Thomas’s first big-name matchup of his legendary eleven-year pro football career.
Joe Thomas squared off against Miami Dolphins edge rusher Jason Taylor in Week 6 of the 2007 NFL season. The former had his hands full since Taylor was the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Thomas told Andrew Gribble of the Browns’ official website twelve years later it was a matchup that fans had been anticipating since the start of the season.
They wanted to see how a rookie left tackle would hold his own against Taylor, who went on to record 11 sacks, earning his fourth straight Pro Bowl nod. Thomas remembered many people thought the outcome would be disastrous.
They thought wrong.
Although Taylor had one sack in the Browns’ 41-31 victory at home, Thomas held his own against him for the most part.
Joe Thomas not only proved he was not a fluke, but he would evolve into one of the best offensive linemen in Cleveland Browns franchise history.
Thomas racked up ten consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 2007 to 2016. He also earned six First-Team All-Pro and two Second-Team All-Pro selections during that ten-year time frame.
Thomas was in the middle of Cleveland’s infamous quarterback conundrum at the time. The Browns had no stability in arguably football’s most important position.
Thomas protected nine starting quarterbacks during his eleven-year NFL career: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, and DeShone Kizer.
Although it was hard for offensive linemen to establish chemistry with new quarterbacks, Joe Thomas defied the odds and remained at the top of his game for more than a decade at football’s highest level.
They played together on the @Browns but how do Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins fare when it comes to guessing sports movies?
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) February 1, 2018
When Thomas entered his eighth pro football season in 2014, he never thought he would forge a tight off-field relationship with new Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
Thom and Hawk
Thomas had a negative first impression of Hawkins, who Cleveland just acquired from their AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Thomas told ClevelandBrowns.com’s Anthony Poisal in the spring of 2021 that Hawkins did not mingle with him and his other Browns teammates. He thought Hawkins was a jerk who had nothing in common with him.
However, Thomas was wrong.
During Thomas and Hawkins’s three seasons together from 2014 to 2016, the two discovered they had common ground: their stance on social and racial equality.
Fast forward five years later, the two Browns teammates are hosting a podcast entitled “The Thom & Hawk Football Show” that aims to bridge the racial divide and raise awareness of social equality in the community, sports, and education.
Relationship with Food
Thomas, a barbecue enthusiast, became a partner of Mission BBQ in 2016, his ninth year in the NFL. He has an ownership stake in the barbecue restaurant’s Canton and Parma branches in Ohio.
Thomas told Cleveland.com’s Marc Bona in the fall of 2020 that he and his Browns teammates loved eating at steakhouses across the country whenever they went on road trips.
Thomas and his wife Annie loved eating at Roy’s during his annual trips to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, HI.
The couple loved feasting on the restaurant’s Mahi Mahi, Misoyaki Butterfish, and Kona Kampachi dishes whenever they were in town.
As Thomas’s NFL career wound down, he discussed with Northeast Ohio beer experts Mark Hunger and Steve Forman the possibility of collaborating on their own beer brand.
That idea finally came to fruition after Thomas retired from the NFL following the 2017 NFL season.
Just before Thomas’s final pro football season, he reached out to a Browns’ dietitian named Katy.
She encouraged him to keep track of his daily nutrition habits with the MyPlate app. Thomas obliged so he could achieve his goal weight of 250 pounds again.
Around that time, Thomas confided to journalist Graham Bensinger he began experiencing early onset memory loss after banging heads with opposing pass rushers for more than a decade.
He told Cleveland.com he was not worried about his situation.
Joe Thomas was the modern-day version of the NFL’s ironman during his heyday.
He never missed his first 10,363 snaps in the NFL and set a new league record in the process.
Thomas’s gaudy streak ended when he tore his left triceps muscle against the Tennessee Titans in the 2007 NFL season.
Joe Thomas on having 10,363 added to the Browns Ring of Honor, recognizing his consecutive snaps streak: "It's very special, emotional moment for me." pic.twitter.com/ggsQLYF6BE
— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) October 14, 2018
Consequently, the Browns placed Joe Thomas on season-ending injury reserve. Sadly, the Week 7 game against the Titans would be Thomas’s last in the National Football League.
Thomas, one of the best offensive tackles in Cleveland’s franchise history, officially retired from pro football in the spring of 2018.
“This was an extremely difficult decision, but the right one for me and my family,” Thomas told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “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 was so good, he gave up just 30 sacks in his eleven-year NFL career.
The Browns were hardly postseason contenders when Thomas played for them from 2007 to 2017.
Cleveland averaged just four wins per season when Joe Thomas was their starting left tackle. Unfortunately, Thomas never experienced postseason football in his legendary career in the National Football League.
During Joe Thomas’s playing career in northeastern Ohio, he singled out former Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James as his favorite basketball player, per The Plain Dealer.
Joe Thomas, his wife Annie, and their four children currently reside in Wisconsin.
The vision of Thomas and his beer connoisseur friends finally came to fruition in 2018.
They launched 73 Kolsch, a beer that combines lager and ale and traces its origins to Cologne, Germany.
The beer, which contains a modest 5.7 percent alcohol, boldly shows Thomas’s No. 73 and graphic representation in Cleveland Browns colors.
Thomas became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019. He’s also a member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team.
Thomas, a bona fide food connoisseur, singled out Fahrenheit as his favorite Cleveland area restaurant (aside from his Mission BBQ locations in Canton and Parma).
Joe Thomas told Cleveland.com he loves eating its Kobe Beef Short Ribs, Jumbo Cap’n Crunch Pancakes, Bell and Evans Country Fried Chicken, and the Potato Hash Brown Waffle whenever he and his family drop by Fahrenheit.
Thomas consumes low-carb dishes on occasion. On that note, he loves TownHall’s low-carb burger, keto wings, and skillet cookie.
Thomas and his family celebrate Taco Tuesdays at home frequently. He uses fresh vegetables from his garden and includes them in his kids’ tacos.
Joe stuck to the Browns’ dietitian’s recommendations and has lost 50 pounds during his retirement years.
Thomas told Men’s Health he is currently on a flexible diet that combines low-carb and intermittent fasting.
Along the way, Thomas has discovered consuming mainly fats and proteins satiates him for longer periods. On the other hand, consuming carbs makes him feel hungrier.
Thomas’s exercise regimen includes single-joint strength training focusing on high reps, swimming, biking, and doing yoga.
Joe Thomas currently works as an NFL Network analyst and does game analysis for the Browns.
Thomas is also the owner and partner of Sports AdvantEdge, a youth football development program.