CLEVELAND – On March 14, the Wisconsin football program held its annual pro day in Madison. It was a day for players with NFL aspirations to showcase their skills in front of scouts and team personnel from all 32 teams in hopes of helping their chances of being selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
But the biggest story of the day had nothing to do with anyone inside the McClain Center. No, that came courtesy of a guy that had been on that same field 11 years earlier going through his own pre-draft workout. Joe Thomas, an All-American and Outland Trophy award winner for the Badgers, announced he was retiring after 11 seasons with the Cleveland Browns. The No. 3 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft was done after 167 games — 167 starts, to be clear. And it wasn’t all the losing Thomas did with the Browns that sent him into retirement. It was the injuries.
The Brookfield, Wis., native set an NFL record with 10,363 offensive snaps played for before tearing the tricep in his left arm. That snap would be the last one Thomas played in his career.
“It was an easy decision. My joints and my body is not in good enough shape any more to play with all these young 20-year-olds,” Thomas told The Zone on Tuesday. “I get around pretty well. But the game is so violent and so physical. When your joints start to deteriorate the way mine have, you just can’t keep up. It’s just untenable. I pretty much didn’t practice the last couple of years because I couldn’t. I had to save everything I had for Sunday.”
He did receive some positive news regarding his post-career honors earlier this week when Thomas was officially placed on the ballot for induction to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2019.
Thomas is one of 76 players and six coaches to be placed on the ballot. The announcement on the Class of 2019 will come in early January.
“I heard maybe a few months ago that I might be nominated. Then I woke up (Tuesday) and I think I saw it on Twitter,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I was very humbled. When you start to look at the names of the other guys that are nominees, it’s like ‘wow, how is that guy not already in?’ There are some unbelievable names that are on [the ballot].”
Thomas also said he has many aspirations for his post-playing career that include being involved in football both near and far. One of them is becoming a super-fan of the Badgers once again.
“I’m really excited now that I’ve got so much more time in the fall to be a die-hard Badgers fan again, to be able to watch every game and follow the team really closely,” Thomas said.
“I think they’re building on the things [former coach and current athletic director] Barry Alvarez built back in the [1990s]. [Current coach] Paul Chryst is a good friend of mine, and I think he’s such a great shepherd of what this program has become. He just does such a good job teaching the game, teaching young men, developing them into grown men and productive members of society. It’s great just watching the way that the handle everybody within that university and that program.”
One potential avenue for Thomas is getting into the sports media industry. He currently hosts The TomaHawk show with former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and did have some auditions with various companies after his retirement. In fact, that’s why Thomas was in attendance on Tuesday evening. The Cleveland Indians were honoring him, Hawkins, and The TomaHawk podcast as they were slated to throw out the first pitch.
“Just trying to figure out what’s next in life. I’ve done some auditions and some interviews for some different media broadcasting jobs. Now I’m just trying to figure out what that next chapter looks like,” Thomas said.
“For 11 years in the NFL I’ve been formulating opinions on things and the only person that was unlucky enough to hear them was my wife. So now I feel like people should be able to hear my opinions on things, so they can be mad at me just like my wife is when I lecture her on things.”
As his podcast continues to be successful, there’s little doubt by many that Thomas will be able to find success in the media landscape should he desire.
And when he heard that the news of his retirement caused quite a buzz at Wisconsin’s pro day back in March he had a chuckle.
“I didn’t even know it was pro day,” he said. “I feel bad about that. I’ll have to repay them somehow, take them out to dinner or something.”