When Joe Thomas suffered a season-ending injury last month, Browns coach Hue Jackson descried the veteran as the heart and soul of a young team searching for its first win.
“He is Cleveland Browns football,” Jackson said. “He’s a guy that keeps us all going and moving forward.”
It’s probably no surprise, then, that Thomas was nominated for the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award on Tuesday despite his absence on the field.
Created in 2014 in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Rooney Sr., the award recognizes players around the league who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship on the field.
Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald won the inaugural award in 2014 and Colts running back Frank Gore won it last season.
Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowler, played 10,363 consecutive snaps until suffering a triceps injury against the Titans three weeks ago. Even so, Thomas remains an integral part of a team still searching for its first win. Unable to practice, he still comes to practice as something of an assistant coach, lending his experience and expertise in the process.
“He is a mentor to a lot of these guys in a lot of different ways. Having him out there and having him be involved is huge,” Jackson said. “This is still his team. Having him around and having him want to be a part of that is very important to me, to our players, to our staff and to all involved.”
The winner of the NFL Sportsmanship Award is determined by a vote of current NFL players. A panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community will select eight finalists (four in the AFC and four in the NFC) from the 32 nominees. The panel is comprised of Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler.
The winner, which will be selected by the vote of the players, will be announced during the NFL Honors show on Saturday, Fec. 3 on NBC, the night before Super Bowl LII. He will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice
Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas has been nominated for the National Football League’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, the team announced Tuesday.
The NFL created the award in 2014 in honor of former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr., a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The award recognizes players who show “outstanding sportsmanship” throughout the regular season.
“Joe Thomas is a football player,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said prior to last week’s game against the Detroit Lions. “This is all he has ever known. The guy hasn’t missed many snaps (laughter). He hadn’t missed any snaps until this happened, so that is what is in his blood.
“He is a football player by trade and a mentor and a coach when he is not. I think it is hard to let that go. He is invited to anything we have. He knows that. He can run the meeting if he wants. As long as you give him the right information, we are all good.”
Thomas may be out of the remainder of the season because of a torn triceps tendon in his left arm, but that is not stopping him from making an impact in the locker room and imparting 11 years’ worth of NFL knowledge to his teammates.
And that includes serving as a guest coach during practice last week, where he helped the offensive linemen get ready for Sunday’s 38-24 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
“Coach Thomas has a lot of experience, doesn’t he?” Jackson said with a laugh after last Wednesday’s practice. “It is a lot of fun having him out there. Joe, as I keep telling you guys, is a huge part of what we do in not just we wish he was out there for us, but the players, he is a mentor to a lot of these guys in a lot of different ways.”
Last December, Thomas was selected to his 10th straight Pro Bowl, making it 10 for 10 in all-star game nods since entering the league via the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of the University of Wisconsin.
Thomas was the first Browns player ever selected to participate in 10 Pro Bowls, and was among only a handful of Pro Football Hall of Famers to appear in 10 straight all-star games at the start of his career.
Prior to the injury, Thomas played 10,363 consecutive snaps, which is believed to be the longest such streak in NFL history.
“Having him out there and having him be involved is huge,” Jackson said. “As I asked him earlier in the week, I wanted to make sure he is traveling with us, going on the road and being part of this because this is still his team. Having him around and having him want to be a part of that is very important to me, to our players, to our staff and to all involved.”