GREEN BAY — Joe Thomas knew it was a joke from the start, but he played along.
With his home-state Green Bay Packers in some measure of disarray at right tackle — with veteran starter Bryan Bulaga coming off reconstructive knee surgery, young backups Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy coming off season-ending injuries of their own and newly signed veteran Byron Bell having arrived less than a month ago — it was suggested to the ex-University of Wisconsin star Wednesday that perhaps he’d like to come out of his brief retirement and give it a whirl.
After all, while it may be tough to convince two-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to give up his spot, who better could the Packers fill the right tackle void with for a year than a future Pro Football Hall of Famer?
“I know two things for sure: One, I can’t play right tackle, and two, I am not heavy enough anymore to be even close to playing offensive line in the NFL,” Thomas said with a laugh during an appearance on ESPN Wisconsin’s “Wilde & Tausch” on Wednesday. “If they need help at tight end, I’d think about it. But tackle, no way.”
Thomas, who retired in March after 11 seasons and zero playoff appearances with the Cleveland Browns, has no intention of playing again. (For the record, the Browns still hold his NFL rights, having placed him on the reserve/retired list.)
After one of the greatest offensive lineman careers in NFL history — before an October elbow injury that ended his 2017 season and snapped his streak of playing 10,363 consecutive regular-season snaps, Thomas was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and seven-time first-team All-Pro — Thomas has a bright future in broadcasting.
It’s just a matter of when he decides to fully pursue it.
Thomas has already auditioned for the color analyst positions on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” (which went to ex-Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten) and FOX Sports’ “Thursday Night Football” (which will be called by the network’s No. 1 announcing team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman).
He said Wednesday he’s drawn further interest but hasn’t committed to anything for this season.
“I’ve had some offers from FOX (and) some other networks for doing it this fall, but I think right now I just want to take time away, step back, not overcommit myself this fall,” Thomas said. “It’ll be my first year away from football in a long time, so I’d rather just take little bites at the media/broadcasting apple and then see where I am at this point next year and see if it’s something I want to do.”
According to ESPN’s Joe Tessitore, the new play-by-play voice of “Monday Night Football,” broadcasting is definitely something Thomas should do. In fact, in a conversation with The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch,Tessitore likened Thomas to legendary coach and broadcaster John Madden, saying his audition delivered the two funniest moments of the selection process.
“I will acknowledge and Joe will acknowledge, he’s very green,” Tessitore told Deitsch. “But ... He was very funny and authentic. There were a few times I told (ESPN vice president and lead MNF producer) Jay Rothman that there is a bit of Madden there. You can unearth this, and somebody will.”
Asked about the audition process, which included him calling the Kansas City-Tennessee AFC wild card game with Tessitore as his practice run, Thomas acknowledged he has a long way to go before being a finished product as a color man.
“The ‘Monday Night Football’ (opportunity) was pretty cool. Obviously it’s the iconic sports broadcast for a lot of us from the moment we were growing up as kids watching ‘Monday Night Football’ with the Packers and Brett Favre and all those great players. So it was really neat and humbling just to be considered for that job,” said Thomas, who was among a handful of candidates, a pool that included Favre. “I learned a lot about the process, I learned a lot about the position of color analyst.
“I think what Joe said was accurate. I’m obviously very green — no experience whatsoever as a color analyst — so for me, I wanted to just show up, show my personality as much as I could and then hopefully people could see that there was something in there that they could take that rough diamond and give me some practice and turn me into somebody who could be good.”
Thomas said he didn’t seek out either audition and had not even signed with a broadcast agent before the process began. His biggest area where he needs to improve is in keeping his thoughts brief.
“I think that’s the biggest thing that I learned going through the process — the ability of when to talk, when to not talk, and then when you are talking, to say something that’s profound but also concise,” Thomas said. “It’s like the headline in the newspaper. That’s kind of how you have to start your comment. And then you have to give it a couple quick seconds to back it up, but then you’ve got to move on because there’s another play. That is a challenge and it’s something that’s a lot different than what I’m used to doing with press conferences and radio and the podcasts I do.”
In the meantime, Thomas said the reality of retirement still hasn’t hit him, because he’s been rehabilitating his elbow injury at the Browns’ facility and also did some volunteer coaching during the offseason program. But it’ll hit home once the season starts, when he watches his Browns as well as the Packers, who hired ex-Browns head coach Mike Pettine as their defensive coordinator this offseason.
Thomas said Packers fans should be excited about what Pettine, his coach in 2014 and ’15, will bring to a defense that has struggled for the past several years.
“He’s a great defensive mind, and I think Packers fans have a right to be excited,” Thomas said. “I think he’s going to bring a fun energy, attacking defense that is going to be fun for fans to watch.
“I think it is going to be productive and I think guys like Mike Daniels are going to love it. He’s going to give them the ability to make plays, to be the athlete and the playmaker that they are.
“It’ll be fun. I’m going to be excited to be a fan and tune into those Packers games and watch those guys run all over the field.”