BEREA — Left tackle Joe Thomas has been to six Pro Bowls in six years and is widely considered the best player on the Browns. He said Friday he wouldn’t be stunned if he’s traded.
“That’s the way it is in the NFL. Nobody on any team is untouchable … if somebody’s willing to give enough for the person,” Thomas said.
It’s been that type of week inside Browns headquarters, as the trade of running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday continued to drive much of the conversation.
Thomas is doubtful to be going anywhere. A cornerstone left tackle isn’t as easy to replace as a running back averaging 3.4 yards a carry, and the Browns would be hard pressed to get anything close to fair-market value. But Thomas was making a point.
“It’s not a safe business where anybody can say that I’m comfortable and they can’t trade me or they can’t cut me or anything like that because that’s just not the way it is,” he said. “You’ve got to perform every week, and nobody is untouchable.”
It’s not a new revelation for Thomas. He felt this way before Richardson was shipped to Indianapolis for a first-round pick in 2014, but it reinforced the belief.
“Obviously it was a surprise when Trent got traded,” he said. “You don’t see the third pick from the year before get traded very often. I mean, it’s a surprise, but not a big surprise because I’ve been in this locker room when we had our starting quarterback traded and it happened even earlier in the season. So you can’t be a guy that’s shocked by anything that happens.”
Thomas was a rookie — also the No. 3 pick — when Charlie Frye was dealt to Seattle after bombing in the 2007 opener. First-year coach Rob Chudzinski was offensive coordinator on that team, which recovered with quarterback Derek Anderson to go 10-6.
Chudzinski is the man in charge this time and is trying to return the attention to the football field. That’s not easy after a bombshell like the Richardson trade, especially in today’s world.
Former president Mike Holmgren, who traded three draft picks to move up one spot to take Richardson in 2012, ripped this week’s trade and said he would’ve quit as coach if the front office had traded his best player.
“I’d shake hands and walk. I would quit on the spot,” he said on Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle.
The Browns went 12-31 during Holmgren’s time in charge before he was let go last fall by new owner Jimmy Haslam and new CEO Joe Banner.
“Mike’s entitled to his opinion,” Banner said on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike.” “He ran the team for three years and was able to do what he believed in. It’s our turn trying to do what we think is right. Obviously wouldn’t have done this if we agreed with his comments.”
Holmgren said he doesn’t know Chudzinski well, but he put him in a difficult spot. As a coach, Holmgren won a Super Bowl with Green Bay and lost one with Seattle and is on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Chudzinski is 0-2 and lost his quarterback and running back before Week 3.
“Look, I love Cleveland. I love these fans. I love this team,” Chudzinski said when asked about Holmgren’s remarks. “I feel strongly that I absolutely agree with our plan, what we’ve done to this point and bringing a winner to Cleveland. I’m focused on this game and playing in Minnesota and getting our guys ready to play and win, and focused on that alone.”
Banner wanted to make it clear Chudzinski was part of the decision-making process before the trade.
“I think the most important thing for me to say is we don’t do anything with Chud not right in the middle of every discussion, every evaluation,” Banner said on ESPN. “This is a collaborative decision that everybody in the organization, from the owner, myself, the head coach, everybody involved felt very strongly was a good thing to do.”
Banner doesn’t foresee any follow-up trades, but wouldn’t rule them out. He’s been around the league longer than Thomas.
“I don’t anticipate that happening,” Banner said. “But if you’d asked me a week ago did we expect to trade Trent, I would’ve said no. I don’t think that will happen and that isn’t the plan or agenda right now.”
Retired linebacker Scott Fujita, who played for the Browns from 2010-12, has transitioned into life in the media. In a column for Foxsports.com, he gave a glimpse of life in the locker room with Richardson and said he might’ve needed a fresh start.
“Guys get drafted all the time to places they just don’t want to be,” Fujita wrote. “I can’t speculate about what’s in any one person’s head, but when a player enters the league wearing headphones incessantly, shows up late for treatments, and makes little effort to engage with his teammates, he can quickly develop a reputation for being insular and high-maintenance.
“It can be perceived that he isn’t happy and that he’s not making an effort to buy in.”
Chudzinski and Banner have insisted the move wasn’t an indictment of Richardson; it was strictly about value. They wanted another first-round draft pick, presumably to improve their chances of landing a quarterback near the top of the draft.
Banner doesn’t deny the strategy, but has a message for the group of Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell.
“Right now we don’t have anybody else,” he said. “It’s their position and their opportunity to prove that we shouldn’t do that. I expect them to go out and compete really hard and establish themselves as the person that can lead the team going forward.
“The best thing that can happen for us is it turns out that the quarterback that we need to lead us going forward is already on the roster and we have all these assets and opportunities to improve the people around him. We’ll evaluate that as we go through the season and see what we think is best to do for next year.”
Weeden is out for Sunday’s game at Minnesota with a sprained right thumb and will be replaced by Hoyer. Chudzinski said it’s highly unlikely Weeden will need surgery, and he could be ready next week. But Chudzinski won’t commit to returning him to the starting lineup, saying it will be a weekly decision.
A year ago, Weeden and Richardson were the future of the team.
“About the only people safe are the ones that came here this year in the first round that were drafted by the guys that are making the calls right now,” Thomas said. “The last time Chud was here, my first game of my rookie season, on the Monday or Tuesday after that we traded our starting quarterback. So that was kind of the welcome-to-the-NFL moment.
“After that happened I realized there is no safety in this organization for anybody at any level on the field or coaches or staff or anybody. We fired our GM in the middle of the year in my third or fourth year. It happened. That’s the way it goes around here.”
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