This story has been updated to reflect more information about Joe Thomas’s injury.
The NFL’s iron man had already begun to rust.
“You name the joint,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said this week. “It hurts. Everything.”
Thomas is used to playing hurt. Thomas had, however, avoided serious injuries until Sunday. After playing in every single possible snap in his Cleveland career—all 10,363 of them—Thomas tore his left triceps in the third quarter of Cleveland’s game against the Tennessee Titans.
The Browns expect Thomas to miss the rest of the season after MRI results Monday confirmed the tear, which will require surgery.
Spencer Drango, a second-year player out of Baylor, came in for Thomas on Sunday. But there’s no real replacement for Thomas. His injury is the latest gut punch in what has been a particularly depressing season for Cleveland. The winless Browns, in the middle of a Trust the Process rebrand, have watched Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz blossom this season after passing on both of them in the last two drafts. DeShone Kizer, meanwhile, was benched for the second time this season and leads the league in interceptions. Losing perhaps the best Browns player of the last 50 years, who is still the best player on the team, is adding injury to insult.
Thomas’s injury snapped a consecutive snaps streak that spanned 10 and a half seasons, six head coaches, six general managers, and 20 quarterbacks. Since the franchise was reincarnated in 1999, Thomas has been the only constant. Without him, the team loses more than one of the best offensive lineman in league history. They lose their identity.