Joe Thomas has been voted to the Pro Bowl five times, has the security of a seven-year, $84 million extension that he signed in August 2011 and is widely regarded as one of the top offensive tackles in the NFL.
But Thomas has yet to get a taste of the playoffs and with the Cleveland Browns limping into Sunday's game against the Ravens with a 2-6 record, the chances for this season fade each week.
Thomas was candid in discussing the frustration of playing for an organization that last made the postseason in 2002.
"It's been tough at times," he said during a conference call this week. "I've only had one winning season in my five years. The worst thing in the world in the NFL is losing because it's so mentally draining, physically draining. You constantly have turnover in the organization from the coaching staff to the administration, and it's difficult.
"It makes coming to work every day sometimes a little bit tough. So I'm ready to start winning and not have to stress about coaching changes and administration changes and roster turnover and all those bad things that come with when you lose."
With Jimmy Haslem becoming the new owner last month, more change chould be coming. But if Haslem replaces Coach Pat Shurmur and the rest of the staff, at least the new coaches will take comfort in Thomas' presence.
The 27-year-old Thomas is one of the top left tackles in the game, along with the Miami Dolphins' Jake Long, the Houston Texans' Duane Brown and the San Francisco 49ers' Joe Staley.
But Thomas has joined former New York Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor and the late Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Derrick Thomas as the only players in NFL history to start in the Pro Bowl in each of the first five years of his career, and that's partly why former New York Jets offensive tackle Damien Woody said Thomas is top left tackle.
"Even with an organization like the Browns that hasn't had a lot of success, he's been one of the few bright spots, one of the more stable players in that organization," the NFL analyst for ESPN said of Thomas. "From Day One, he stepped in and has been one of the top left tackles, and I'd say that right now, he's the top left tackle in the game."
Woody said Thomas is the prototypical left tackle, having size, footwork and technique.
The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Thomas also has long arms — measured at 32½ inches — that he can use to keep pass rushers from collapsing the pocket.
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A few Ravens defensive players remarked at how effectively Thomas uses his reach to slow them. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger said he takes a moment to consider how to get into Thomas' pads before the football is snapped.
"With his long arms, you've got to defend yourself earlier because he's going to be able to touch you a lot sooner than other guys would," Kruger said. "You've just got to combat it by using your hands and using your technique and mixing it up. One time, you've got to use a bull rush, and then use different moves. You've got to change it up on him or else you get into the habit of doing the same thing, and he's going to catch onto that."
The battle between offensive linemen and pass rushers can come down to which player can get his hands first on his opponent, and Thomas said if he can beat his opponent, the balance of power shifts to his side.
"I think for the most part on offense, if you are able in pass protection to get your hands on a guy and lock him out, it's pretty tough for them to get re-started, especially in the league nowadays when quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball in four seconds on average," he said.
One of the marquee matchups of Sunday's contest will be Thomas against outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who will play in only his second game since partially tearing his right Achilles tendon in April, has sacked Browns quarterbacks 13 times — the second most against an opposing team in his career — but has collected just five sacks in 10 meetings with Cleveland since the franchise used the third overall pick in 2007 to draft Thomas.
"It's a good battle," Shurmur said. "I remember when I was in Philly, we had the [Jon] Runyan and [Michael] Strahan thing going, which was fun. It is kind of a little game within the game, and those are two really good players going after each other."