Money is there to get Solder if Thomas exits
A day before free agency officially began in the NFL, and Joe Thomas still hadn’t announced a decision he has been pondering since his 2017 season — and maybe his career — ended nearly five months ago.
The Browns, after aggressively improving the offense March 9 by trading with the Bills for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and with the Dolphins for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, definitely do not want to head to the 2018 opener with Spencer Drango as starting left tackle.
Solder turns 30 on April 12. The Patriots made him the 17th pick of the 2011 draft. He was a right tackle as a rookie. He moved to left tackle his second season and protected Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s blind side the past six years.
Solder, 6-foot-8, 314 pounds, hasn’t been to a Pro Bowl (he was a Pro Bowl alternate for the 2017 season), but since he and Thomas both play in the AFC, he would have had to beat out Thomas to get that recognition.
The Browns have about $78 million in salary cap room available. The Patriots desperately want to re-sign Solder, but they have only $22 million in cap room.
The Texans also want to sign Solder, according to reports. They have about $61 million in cap space available.
Thomas, in the final year of his contract, will make $10.3 million in base salary if he plays in 2018. He is due a $3 million roster bonus March 18.
Teams always end up overpaying free agents; Andrew Norwell, a left guard who earned $2.7 million from Carolina last year, has a five-year, $66.5 million contract with Jacksonville in place.
Left tackles are so coveted Solder is likely to get at least $14 million a year from the team that signs him.
Thomas lost weight immediately after being injured because he could not work out.
After getting the OK from trainers, he has been in the Browns facility almost daily, working out as much as he can while going through injury rehab. Thomas in January said doctors told him he would be cleared for football activities in June or July.
“I’ve seen him putting (weight) back on now here recently, but he’s Joe,” Browns coach Hue Jackson told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this month. “He knows how to get himself ready to play if he decides to play.
“For us as an organization, we’re going to do everything we can to be prepared whether he plays or he doesn’t play and I think that’s what our responsibility is. Joe has been a tremendous Cleveland Brown, has done anything and everything we’ve asked of him, so I think it’s only right that we give him the opportunity to work through this and make the best decision for him.”
The Browns were 10-6 in Thomas’ rookie year. They have had a losing record in 10 straight seasons since then.