CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Browns have only five retired numbers, but it may as well be six, because Joe Thomas made #73 legendary.
So when Jedrick Wills, their new franchise left tackle, made the request, Kevin Stefanski was wise to say, uh, ‘I don’t think so’.
“Once the Browns did draft him, he (Wills) reached out to me and said ‘would it be okay if I wore your number’?, and I said that would be a tremendous honor,” Thomas told me during a Facetime interview. “Coach (Stefanski) pooh-poohed it, and I can understand that it would raise extra expectations.”
Instead, Wills, who played right tackle at Alabama, will wear #71, and hopefully finally fill that void at left tackle.
What’s the biggest challenge in switching from the right side to the left?
Thomas, who should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2023, says balance.
“You keep your weight 60% on the inside leg, 40% on the outside leg,” Thomas says. “That’s the hardest thing to learn.”
Wills was the tackle that Thomas wanted all along. He hopes to work with him at training camp, if there is a training camp. That, like everything else, is up in the air.
Which brings me back to the Draft. It was a virtual tour of executives, coaches and players, choosing and celebrating in small groups from afar.
The next time a first-round pick celebrates on stage, it will be here in Cleveland, at next year’s Draft.
But will some players still choose more intimate settings, moving forward?
Thomas, after all, skipped the trip to the Draft thirteen years ago, choosing instead to go fishing with his Dad and a friend.
He says he wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more players stay at home in the future.
“When you’re getting drafted, you want to spend time with the people that were there while you were building up to the Draft,” Thomas says. “For me it was my family, my close friends. I think a lot of times, when you do go to the Draft location, you have to keep it small. A lot of times there are so many responsibilities, that you don’t really get to spend quality time with your family and friends, like I did when I spent Draft day fishing.”
But don’t worry, Cleveland. There will be players at next year’s Draft. And pageantry. It’s the best party the NFL throws. And football fans here in Ohio deserve that.
It’ll just be a little different than in years past. Like everything else.
“There will still be players that will go to the Draft,” Thomas says. “But I think spending it with the people you love, and not having the craziness that goes with the Draft, is probably something players will enjoy.”