Road to Canton: Two Patriots linemen, two Hall of Fame voters and Class of 2016 enshrinee Orlando Pace weigh in from Super Bowl 52 on a bright spot amid the Cleveland Browns’ dark days.
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. Patriots left tackle Nate Solder marvels at Cleveland’s iron man.
“Joe Thomas is awesome,” Solder said Tuesday at the Mall of America during a pit stop on his way to Super Bowl practice. “Everything I know from talking to him a few times and from what anybody has ever said about him is amazing.”
Thomas has spent 11 seasons as Cleveland’s left tackle without ever getting to the playoffs. Solder is a testament to a left tackle’s value to a franchise with its act together.
The Patriots have reached Super Bowls capping the 2014, 2016 and 2017 seasons, when Solder was healthy. Their only recent Super Bowl miss was in 2015, when Solder missed everything after Game 5 with a torn right bicep.
Before Thomas suffered torn left triceps this past Oct. 22, he had played an NFL-record 10,363 consecutive snaps across 10-plus seasons in Cleveland.
He is one player from an 0-16 team everyone knows about, and that certainly includes the offensive linemen from the win-happy Patriots.
“It’s just cool to watch him, how efficiently he moves,” center David Andrews said. “Hats off to him for what he did. I mean, 10,000-plus consecutive snaps is unreal.”
Thomas, who turned 33 last month, says he needs time to think about whether he will try to play again. If he doesn’t, he will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023.
Two prominent Hall of Fame voters hanging out Tuesday in the NFL’s Super Bowl 52 headquarters at the Mall of America see a clean road to Canton for Thomas.
“I think Joe Thomas is pretty much a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” said voter John Clayton, known mostly for his years of work on ESPN. “I think he’s the most dominant left tackle of this era.
“What he was able to do with all of the Pro Bowls and the consecutive plays shows dedication, which by itself doesn’t mean too much, but to play at that level with such adversity, on a team that hasn’t won … that’s amazing.”
Long-time voter John McClain of Houston took it a step further.
“I think Joe Thomas would be a first-ballot inductee,” McClain said. “He’s the best left tackle I’ve seen in my 39 years covering the NFL.
“Who would Joe to compare to? Anthony Munoz is the greatest I’ve ever seen from the past. Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden … those guys were unbelievable. Joe Thomas is just as good as they were.
“I don’t think it makes any difference if Joe steps onto the football field again. It certainly doesn’t with me.
“The fact he played for such a bad team for so long I think actually is helpful, because he stood out on bad teams. I can’t imagine anybody on our committee wouldn’t think Joe Thomas is worth getting voted into the Hall of Fame.”
Clayton and McClain are part of a 48-member voting group which will elect the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 on Saturday.
Former Ohio State dynamo Orlando Pace, who was elected to the Hall of Fame two years ago in San Francisco, is in Minnesota for Super Bowl week.
While walking the Mall of America on Tuesday, Pace stopped to weigh in on Joe Thomas.
“Joe? Oh, man,” Pace said. “Before he got hurt he was still playing at a high level. I mean, 10,000 snaps. That’s what it was, right? Unbelievable.
“I gotta tip to a guy like that. Not having the success in Cleveland, but still being there for every snap, playing as hard as he’s played, playing as well as he’s played. Hats off to him.”
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