If you want a literal, physical definition of a plug-and-play guy, then you need not look any further than the guy who introduced Pittsburgh Steelers rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt to the NFL last week: Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas.
I’m sure you’ve seen or read about it by now, but the man is now just four snaps shy of logging 10,000 consecutive snaps played, and he is believed to already own the record for the most snaps ever played without missing a single one—the caveat being that snaps have not always been tracked the way that they are now.
The third-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas has literally never missed a snap in his entire career, starting and playing in every one of the Browns’ 161 games that have taken place since then over the course of the past 10-plus years.
He has made the Pro Bowl in every single season, and has been on the All-Pro list (first-team seven times) in every year since his second, in 2008. The Wisconsin product is truly the best of his generation and an obvious lock for the Hall of Fame, perhaps even a first-ballot, which is not as common for linemen, though tackles have a much easier time.
It is virtually inevitable that Thomas will hit the landmark today. Needing only four snaps, and there being no indications of any type of health issue, the Browns need only to muster up one first down in order for him to achieve the feat on their opening drive of today’s game against the Ravens.
Regardless of whom you root for, I consider it a remarkable achievement, especially for a player who has played at such a high level for such a long time. And who has done so amidst such chaos. Consider this: there is nobody aside from Thomas currently on the Browns’ roster who has been with the team for more than four seasons.
Literally every single other player on the current 53-man roster has been drafted or otherwise acquired within the past four years. 33 of them are only in their first or second season. His ‘oldest’ teammates are Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, and Isaiah Crowell, though they does ignore Tank Carder, in his sixth season, on injured reserve.
But the point is of course that Thomas has achieved the spectacular and with little external motivation, because, to be blunt, the Browns have not offered a whole lot of incentive for him to stay on the field, let alone to play through any type of injury. This is sheer internal drive and passion for the game.
When the time comes today, I believe that everybody in Steeler Nation to give a tip of the cap or whatever gesture is appropriate to Thomas in salute of his achievement. There aren’t too many instances of a Steelers player in recent years even playing 100 percent of the team’s snaps in a given season, let alone a decade. David DeCastro has come the closest, missing just two snaps in the past three years.