Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Joe Thomas Says Level of QB Play Makes NFL Fun

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 14, 2018

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, right, shakes hands with former Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas before being interviewed at the on-field set for Thursday Night Football after an NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets , Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Baker Mayfield has already won over one future Hall of Famer, a game no NFL fan should miss and yet another example of how the NFL doesn't really care about the health of its players. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

      

1. No average Joe

It's a Friday in late 2014, two days before Johnny Manziel is set to make his first NFL start, and the Browns offense is going through its practice. Normally, the Friday sessions are easy for quarterbacks, and they connect on almost all of their throws.

Manziel's practice was, well, different.

"Apparently, he hadn't been studying," said Joe Thomas, the recently retired, soon-to-be Hall of Fame lineman. "He hit two out of 30 passes. I thought, 'We aren't going to do that well on Sunday.'"

The Browns lost 30-0 to the Bengals as Manziel threw for 80 yards and two interceptions and recorded a 27.3 passer rating.

That was just one of the scenes Thomas recalled in a recent conversation about his career and life in the NFL. Thomas played his entire 11-year career in Cleveland and made 10 Pro Bowls. He played a record 10,363 straight snaps, a remarkable streak for any player, let alone an offensive lineman.

And he's just about seen it all, from the low of the Manziel era to the high of the Browns' first win in a year. After they beat the Chargers in December 2016, the locker room was jubilant. Thomas and then-coach Hue Jackson approached each other.

"We hugged and the embrace was just raw emotion," Thomas said. "We were both crying. We were crying over getting just one win."

Sometimes, as we chronicle the daily news of the NFL, it's smart to pause and just talk football with one of the greats, and Thomas is one of the greats.

But there's a high price for doing what Thomas did so well for so long, which became clear when I asked if he would ever consider unretiring.

"I have almost no cartilage left in my knees," he said. "My last year I could barely walk."

So this season he's made the transition to the other side of the microphone, developing into one of the keenest, and most honest, observers of the game. Especially about his former team.

Though Thomas had argued earlier this season that Jackson should remain the Browns head coach, he understood that the conflicts Jackson had with offensive coordinator Todd Haley were the reason both coaches were let go.

"The infighting in the building seemed to be the final straw," Thomas said. "I don't think they wanted that kind of thing around Baker Mayfield."

That's an important part of the equation to Thomas, because, as he said, "I think the Browns have found their franchise quarterback in Baker."

Though he spent his career working on the finer points of line play, the game in the trenches is not what Thomas likes most about the league. It's the quarterbacks those linemen are protecting.

"I've been shocked at how good [quarterback play] is across the league," he said. "There is so much good play, and it really bodes well for football. It makes it fun."

In addition to his analyst work, Thomas is now spending some of his time in retirement working with Polaris and the Ranger Country Heroes Hunt initiative. They are aiming to raise $100,00 for an organization called LEEK, which is dedicated to the recovery of veterans by providing a hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation retreat as a means of healing.

"There are a lot of hidden and visible wounds veterans are fighting," he said. "I'm honored to be a part of this.

It's no surprise Thomas was one of the game's most popular, successful and respected players. He is missed.

      

2. Now that's how you turn a franchise around

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

As great as Thomas was, his Browns were not, but that is changing thanks to a 2018 draft that is shaping up to be one of the best of all time. Those are words you rarely hear associated with the Browns.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield, taken first overall, looks like a legit franchise quarterback. The fourth overall pick, corner Denzel Ward, has been terrific, too. Running back Nick Chubb, a second-round pick, is one of the bright young talents in the league.

There are other examples, such as fourth-round wide receiver Antonio Callaway and fifth-round linebacker Genard Avery, who've earned multiple starts in their rookie years. Assuming the Browns can get their coaching staff sorted out, fun times could finally be back for Browns fans.

    

3. Let Dak be Dak

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Quarterback Dak Prescott has caught hell this season for his inconsistent play. Some of it has been legitimate—he does sometimes stare down receivers and hold on to the ball too long.

But he's still talented and a franchise-type thrower…if only the coaching staff would let him be that. The biggest problem with Prescott is that the Cowboys have not allowed him to be himself. That's not just my opinion, but what I've heard repeatedly from a number of coaches around the league.

Look no further than Sunday night against the Eagles for proof. Prescott, unleashed, was the QB he is meant to be, throwing for a touchdown and scoring another on the ground while connecting on 72 percent of his passes.

Now if only Jason Garrett and Co. would just let Dak be, the Cowboys might see again the star they have in their midst.

    

4. Talent + coaching = Wow!

Bill Feig/Associated Press

New Orleans has scored 51 and 45 points, respectively, over the last two weeks. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, the combined 96 points are the most in any two-game span in team history.

What Sean Payton is doing with the Saints offense is remarkable, and it's the reason he is one of three coaches, along with Andy Reid in Kansas City and Sean McVay in L.A., who are in the Coach of the Year running.

Reid may be the leader because of what he's done with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but Payton will make the choice a difficult one.

    

5. Best regular-season matchup ever?

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 11: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass during the second quarter of the age against the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium on November 11, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty I
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The Rams and Chiefs will play Monday night. It's one of the most anticipated regular-season games of all time. It's not just because it's a possible Super Bowl preview (each team has lost one game so far) but also because the game will likely be so entertaining. These are the two best offenses in the NFL right now, each averaging more than 33 points per game.

The anticipation over the matchup brings to mind another of the most anticipated regular-season games in history, when the Dolphins hosted a 12-0 Bears team in December 1985. Miami won a shootout that night and preserved the franchise's record of having the only undefeated team in league history. This game won't have that sort of impact, but it should be close, fun and something no football fan should miss.

    

6. A lot of hot air

Tony Avelar/Associated Press

The phrase "player safety" is thrown around all the time by the league…

We're changing concussion protocol because of player safety. We're reducing physical contact in the offseason because of player safety. Protect the quarterback because of player safety.

Then the league will have a team play Sunday and then on the following Thursday.

Or the league will refuse to change the venue as it did for the Giants-49ers game Monday night, when the air-quality index was 156, a number which is considered unhealthy, according to AirNow.gov, an Environmental Protection Agency site that measures air quality. The air quality for the Raiders game in Oakland was worse at 167.

This is a multibillion-dollar league with almost unlimited resources. It can postpone a game or move it if needed. The NFL just didn't care.

So much for player safety.

By the way: Where in the hell is the union on this?

    

7. Fighting the good fight

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Matt Breida #22 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes with the ball against the New York Giants during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on November 12, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 49ers are 2-8. That's terrible. What's not terrible is the effort the team is giving each week. The 49ers may lose, but they also fight, and that's a credit to coach Kyle Shanahan.

That stands in stark contrast to teams like the Jets and Raiders, who look ready to hit the beach.

Culture matters.

      

8. Where to, Eli?

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

One of the NFL's most interesting parlor games is trying to figure out where Giants quarterback Eli Manning will be playing next season.

Few in the league believe he'll remain in New York. Much of the early speculation has him ticketed for either Denver or Jacksonville.

But another intriguing team was brought up to me this week: Tampa Bay.

Again, this is all guesswork from team officials across the league, but several front-office sources think the Bucs would welcome Manning to make some sense of their messy QB situation.

If that did happen (and it's a gigantic "if"), that would mean Jameis Winston would be gone. And since he's currently being beaten out by Ryan Fitzpatrick, that could be the case anyway.

     

9. The C word

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Now that Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has decided not to play this season, he is headed for free agency, but his path there may not be as simple as signing with the highest bidder.

One of the dirty secrets of the NFL is that collusion is an almost regular part of NFL life. No, I can't prove that. There isn't a secret memo stored in an NFL safe titled "Collusion Secrets Here: Do Not Open." But it happens.

See: Kaepernick, Colin.

The league despises players like Bell: independent, strong-willed and willing to give the middle finger to the league's financial system.

So it wouldn't be shocking to me if Bell, when he does get into the open market, got lower money than he should.

       

10. The Jaguars still believe

AJ Mast/Associated Press

After 10 weeks, it's safe to say that one of the season's most disappointing teams is Jacksonville. The Jaguars reached the AFC title game last year, but heading into this Sunday they stand at a mere 3-6. Not only has the offense had its predictable ups and downs, but the defense, considered the backbone of the franchise entering the season, has struggled to stop people as well.

One of the team's stars, however, says it's not too late to turn the season around.

"I believe we can," Leonard Fournette said in an interview with B/R while promoting his iFly travel luggage collection.

"We're in tough times right now," he said. "But we're fighting hard every practice to get back to winning."

The schedule won't make it easy with dates against the Steelers, Texans, Titans and Washington remaining, but if Fournette believes, maybe the rest of the Jaguars do, too.

              

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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