Money is there to get Solder if Thomas ex­its

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Sports - By Jeff Schudel JSchudel@news-her­ @jsproin­sider on Twit­ter

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.

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