Will he be back or will he retire?
Cleveland Browns OT Joe Thomas' future was the story of the night during Wednesday's 18th annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards at the Renaissance Hotel. Thomas served as a presenter as he and former Browns QB Bernie Kosar handed out the Male and Female High School Athlete of the Year awards.
The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission also surprised the Browns All-Pro by recognizing his achievement of playing 10,000 consecutive snaps during the festivities. The tribute video featured messages from Browns legend Jim Brown, plus Thomas' former teammate Alex Mack, and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
But it was the present and the future, not the past, that had our attention on this night.
After suffering a season-ending torn triceps injury in October, the 33-year-old Thomas has not made a decision as to whether or not he'll be back on the field in 2018.
Consider his options:
Joe is a virtual lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's a 10-time Pro Bowler, 7-time first team All-Pro, and played 10,362 consecutive snaps before the injury. Short of going to the playoffs, he's done just about everything you can do as an offensive lineman. What else does he have to prove?
Plus, Thomas has been busy learning how to play the media game. He and former Browns teammate Andrew Hawkins have started a podcast called 'ThomaHawk,' and are planning to make the rounds on radio row at the upcoming Super Bowl in Minnesota. His name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Jon Gruden on ESPN's Monday Night Football. The 'Voice of the Browns,' Jim Donovan, believes that Joe could be someone who would make an excellent front office executive for an NFL team someday.
The bottom line is there are no shortage of options for Joe to consider if he decides he's done with football and wants to retire.
On the other hand, there's that itch. That itch to be back in the trenches doing what you've done at the highest level. That itch to be on the Cleveland Browns when the beleaguered franchise finally, finally turns things around and is a winner. Remember, the Browns have had exactly one winning season since Thomas has been in Cleveland. That would be his rookie year of 2007. Plus you have to imagine for Thomas that there's a feeling that 'I don't want to go out coming off of a season-ending injury in an 0-16 season.'
Joe Thomas stopped by the WKYC table at the sports awards and chatted with yours truly, Ben Axelrod, and Matt Florjancic. I asked him about weighing the balance of those two factors in making his decision to play or retire. "In my mind now, it's going to come down to 'Do I feel like health-wise I can survive another NFL season'?" He added that the elbow is 'feeling great' and got a good progress report from doctors earlier this week.
But here was the part from our conversation that makes me think that we will see #73 back on the field for the Browns this fall. "I still deeply love the game of football," Thomas told us. "Everything about it: The competition, the preparation, the practice, the locker room. And I still feel like I'm playing at a high level."
That sure sounds to me like someone who still has the fire inside to play football.
Thomas has set no timetable for a final decision. He understands that the Browns are going to give him the time and space he needs to make the call, but would also like some clarity before the draft and free agency if possible.
He's earned that right, and the right to decide his future on his terms.
WATCH: Catch Joe Thomas' conversation with myself, Matt Florjancic, and Ben Axelrod from WKYC's Facebook LIve in the player below. (The interview starts at the 20:00 mark)