Pardon Joe Thomas for not being moved by the Suck for Sam truthers, who believe that the savior is some Southern California kid quarterback with sublime reddish-blond hair.
The Browns Pro Bowl left tackle has seen this movie before. The future Hall of Famer has played with hot-shots, long-shots, underachievers and bums. Nineteen starting signal callers in 11 years, to be exact. But who’s counting.
Sunday’s clash of the (allegedly) tanking-titan Jets and winless Browns will have a bizarre feel.
To some, it’ll unofficially be the Sam Darnold Bowl, a 60-minute duel to get in better position to land the USC quarterback in the upcoming draft.
“It’s always fun for fans and the media to have that narrative because it gives you guys something to talk about,” a candid Thomas told the Daily News. “And for fans, I’m sure they enjoy the optimism of looking toward the future if they don’t think that the present is bright. But it seems like every year the player that you want to suck for ends up dropping and not being the top pick… or what you expected.”
Nothing – and nobody – is a sure thing. History reveals many tales of quarterback busts. It’s a never-ending tug-of-war with your emotions. Some Jets diehards expecting the worst before this season are now conflicted in the wake of a 2-2 start. A win this weekend would put them into a tie atop the AFC East, but it’ll come with a potentially steep price: Darnold will almost certainly be out of reach.
Sam Darnold still appears to be an NFL ready talent despite so-so numbers at USC this season.
(Harry How/Getty Images)
“I don’t want to win any games,” celebrity Jets fan Larry David said on the Dan Patrick Show this week. “I’m sick about this.”
Perhaps nobody understands more than Thomas, whose team has lost 22 of their last 23 games. The Browns, 4-32 since the start of 2015, are working on their 10th consecutive losing season. Thomas has played for four head coaches in the past six seasons. The franchise has made one playoff appearance this millennium.
Sucking for Sam — or anyone else — is an inherently dangerous game, Thomas cautions.
“Just because of the nature of the way college football and the way the quarterback position goes,” Thomas said. “For instance, if you look at our guy (DeShone) Kizer. Everyone said he was going to be the No. 1 pick this year two years ago. And then the season doesn’t always turn out the way you expect. Typically, the guy that’s expected to be the No. 1 pick, when he goes through his college season, everyone wants to tear him down and poke holes in his game. And it always seems to be that they never end up being the No. 1 pick. Even Brady Quinn in my year. I look back at Matt Barkley. They said he was going to be the No. 1 pick (after his junior year). The next year, he’s a fourth-round pick.”
“So, it is kind of funny,” Thomas added. “Because it never seems to be true where a guy ends up coming back for another season as the consensus No. 1 and then plays the whole year and is still picked No. 1.”
Darnold, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, is living through all of that right now. His stock has seemingly slipped after a statistically shaky start this season (nine TD passes, eight interceptions). There have been rumblings that he’ll stay in school rather than declare for the draft.
I still firmly believe Darnold has the makings to be a NFL difference maker, but…
“If you look historically at the draft at quarterbacks in the Top 10,” Thomas said, “About half of them flame out very quickly. So, there’s no guarantee in the NFL that if you’ve got the No. 1 pick or you’ve got a Top 5 pick, that you’re going to be able to draft a franchise quarterback. So, I’m not sure that the appropriate strategy is just to tank for a quarterback.”
Joe Thomas knows all to well the danger of putting future of franchise in hands of young QB.
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Sure, there have been some brutal high draft picks (see: Christian Ponder and Jake Locker), but recent history suggests you can re-make your franchise by selecting a signal caller near the top of the draft.
Eight of the 12 quarterbacks taken in the Top 3 of the last 10 drafts have either been difference makers or are trending up: Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. (Mitchell Trubisky will make his first career start on Monday night).
Sam Bradford and Blake Bortles have underachieved. Robert Griffin III has been a stone-cold bust.
Although Thomas, who has played more than 10,000 consecutive snaps, made it clear that players aren’t wired to lose, he’s fully aware of the competing interests within organizations. The Browns front office, for example, has preached patience with a heavy emphasis on analytics. Cleveland has hoarded drafted picks under the new regime. The Browns have drafted 24 players in the past two years. They have five picks in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft.
“It’s something you have to live with because obviously… there is management in today’s NFL that’s looking at how valuable draft picks are in their mind,” Thomas said. “On a multi-year rebuild, they’re trying to stock up on draft picks and salary cap space. But I guess that’s just life in today’s NFL.”
Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has made no secret that he wants to build through the draft with as many picks as possible. It’s a smart quality-over-quantity approach. The more swings you take, the better.
(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
That philosophy, however, has created an odd dynamic. Some Jets fans are unabashed about their desire to lose as much as possible in 2017 for the promise of Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen or Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Others aren’t rooting against their team, but they aren’t exactly shedding a tear if Gang Green comes up short on gamedays, either.
“I’m not intimately familiar with exactly what’s going on with the Jets,” Thomas said, “But certainly if the front office has disseminated to their fans in the wink-nod manner, ‘Hey, the players and the coaches are going to try to win, but we’re looking to the future (and) we’re more interested in four, five years from now,’ than maybe the fans can feel better about losing.”
“Maybe it’s a different situation out there,” Thomas said. “In Cleveland, it seems like the fans are just as upset now when we lose than they were last year or five or 10 years ago.”
Browns fans won’t be the only ones upset if they lose on Sunday.