Browns left tackle Joe Thomashas been named the Cleveland Browns 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year, the team announced Wednesday. Renamed in 1999 after legendary Chicago Bears Pro Football Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton, the accolade is presented to one member of each of the 32 teams, highlighting players' community service and playing excellence.
Thomas, who also received the team's accolade in 2010 and was one of three NFL finalists in 2012, is the only Browns player to earn the Walter Payton Man of the Year distinction multiple times. He will formally be presented with the team's award by Deeand Jimmy Haslam on Sunday prior to Browns' AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"Joe Thomas embodies everything you could ask for as a football player, as a leader and as a man of character to represent our team, our city and the NFL for his selfless commitment to the causes and most importantly the people who he impacts on the field and off of it," said Head Coach Hue Jackson. "We are proud to have a person like Joe represent the Cleveland Browns every day and to recognize his contributions with this honor."
"Our team places a strong emphasis on having people with the right makeup and character in our building, and we are fortunate to have a consummate professional like Joe Thomas who serves as a reliable leader on our football team and in our community," said Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown. "Beyond being one of the best tackles in the history of our game, Joe's character, professionalism and leadership, have a tremendous impact on our football team, especially in his position as a captain and role model for our younger players."
Since being selected No. 3 overall by the Browns in the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas has started all 156 career games, tied for the longest active streak among NFL offensive linemen, and played every possible offensive snap of his career (9,684 consecutive), the longest active stretch in the league. He is the only offensive lineman in NFL history to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first nine seasons, while each of the other seven players to accomplish the feat are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (RB Jim Brown, RB Franco Harris, DT Merlin Olsen, DB/RB Mel Renfro, RB Barry Sanders, LB Lawrence Taylor and LB Derrick Thomas).
Voted a 2016 captain by his teammates, Thomas – who has been named to the Associated Press All-Pro team in each of the past eight seasons, including six first-team honors (2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015) – is also tied with Pro Football Hall of Fame members Jim Brownand Lou Grozafor the most Pro Bowl selections (nine) in Browns annals.
While his accomplishments on the football field are marked in NFL history, Thomas' impactful contributions and commitment to the Cleveland community have been evident to teammates, Browns fans and representatives from many charitable initiatives throughout career. He leads by example with his teammates as a respected veteran on the team in the team's facility and in the community, illustrating to young players the importance of giving back to others during their career and beyond.
Thomas and his wife, Annie, continue to champion Cleveland Kids in Need Resource Center and are the top individual contributors to the grassroots Cleveland educational organization, impacting more than 100,000 students. The organization's mission is to ensure that all students have the tools to learn and succeed by providing free school supplies to students most in need. The Thomas' also rally teammates to visit the site each year to help stock shelves or shop with teachers who are paving the way for brighter futures in Cleveland.
Thomas' passion for supporting children in need is also emphasized by his family's ongoing commitment to Providence House, the Cleveland Browns Courage House. His family has extended generous support to this crisis nursery supporting children in Cleveland, and he and his wife annually serve as honorary co-chairs of Deck the House, the organization's annual holiday event. Providence House supported 272 children in Cleveland in the past year, and the Thomas' generous contributions continue to help raise awareness for their services. Together, the couple also makes time throughout the year to help raise awareness and support the Cleveland Animal Protective League.
The Browns' 2016 Salute to Service Award recipient, Thomas has been highly involved in the team's programs supporting military members and their families since joining Cleveland and also continually recognizes those groups through his individual efforts. In 2010, he embarked on a 10,000-mile, week-long trip to visit troops stationed throughout the Middle East as part of the NFL/USO Tour. Thomas has also engaged in multiple military appreciation opportunities through the team's First and Ten program, including last month's visit to Brook Park Armory, when USO members onsite surprised him with a commemorative plaque to recognize his contributions since coming to Cleveland.
Thomas, who has multiple family members who served, also payed tribute to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 during this year's season opener, when he led the Browns onto the field in Philadelphia while carrying a flag flown from the Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial. The Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial, located in Sunbury, Ohio, was established in 2005 by local veterans, Gold Star families and others who had a vision to build a tribute to the men and women in uniform from Ohio who made the ultimate sacrifice defending the United States.
Through his season ticket program, "Thomas' Troops," the Wisconsin native provides members of the USO of Northern Ohio who are deployed or will soon be deployed and their families free tickets throughout the season for each Browns home game.
Additionally, Thomas consistently commits time to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank in multiple ways, including purchasing turkeys prior to the holiday season and supporting the annual Taste of the Browns event at FirstEnergy Stadium. Thomas values the importance of the services provided as the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, a First and Ten community partner that supports six counties and reaches families in dire need throughout the region, provided 47.8 million nutritious meals to families in 2015.
Thomas also is a strong advocate for the Browns' community initiatives, including the Cleveland Browns Foundation, the Browns First and Ten platform and the team's dedication to youth and high school football. His generosity extends well beyond Cleveland as he is dedicated to many local charities in his hometown in Wisconsin, as well.
As an additional credit to his character and standing as a role model at the Browns facility and in the community, Thomas is the only player in team history to be voted as the PFWA Dino Lucarelli Good Guy award winner multiple times (2010 and 2013) in recognition of his cooperation with the media and his community involvement.
As the Browns' Walter Payton Man of the Year, the NFL will provide a donation to a charity of Thomas' choice on his behalf.
From the league-wide designees, three NFL finalists will be selected to be honored during the week of Super Bowl 51 in Houston. The 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will be announced at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on February 4, the night before Super Bowl LI, from 8-10 p.m. (ET and PT) on FOX.
The Man of the Year award has been given annually since 1970.
Cleveland Browns Walter Payton Man of the Year award:
1999 OG Jim Pyne
2000 LB Jamir Miller
2001 LB Wali Rainer
2002 RB Jamel White
2003 QB Kelly Holcomb
2004 DE Kenard Lang
2005 QB Trent Dilfer
2006 QB Charlie Frye
2007 WR Braylon Edwards
2008 K Phil Dawson
2009 WR Mike Furrey*
2010 OL Joe Thomas
2011 WR Joshua Cribbs
2012 OL Joe Thomas*
2013 LB Jabaal Sheard
2014 LB Craig Robertson
2015 TE Gary Barnidge
2016 OL Joe Thomas
Denotes NFL finalist*
About the Cleveland Browns Foundation:
The Cleveland Browns Foundation is dedicated to a solution-based, holistic approach to ensure Northeast Ohio youth receive the education and development they need as a foundation for independence and success. For more information, visit ClevelandBrowns.com/community.
About First and Ten:
Launched in June 2014, the Cleveland Browns First and Ten campaign is the team's community program, established to inspire fans to #give10 and help their communities by volunteering for 10 hours each year. Through First and Ten, the Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community. All Browns fans are encouraged to join the volunteering effort by signing the First and Ten pledge on the team's website and by sharing their stories with #give10. For more information, visit ClevelandBrowns.com/community.
About the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year:
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. The award, which was established in 1970 and renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton, is considered the league's most prestigious honor. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community to be considered for the national award.
Three of the 32 nominees will be selected as finalists, and the winner will be announced in Houston at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on February 4, the night before Super Bowl LI, from 8-10 p.m. (ET and PT) on FOX.
A total of $1 million will be donated in the name of the 2016 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, with $500,000 going to a charity of his choice and $500,000 supporting the expansion of Character Playbook across all NFL markets. The two finalists will each receive a $125,000 donation to the charity of their choice and a $125,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook and the additional 29 team winners will receive a $50,000 donation to their charity of choice and an additional $50,000 donation in their name to implement Character Playbook in their club market. Donations will be courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
To further celebrate and encourage fan support of the 32 team Man of the Year nominees, Nationwide, the presenting sponsor of the Award, will host the second annual Charity Challenge. As part of the social media challenge, each nominee will have a unique hashtag, and fans will be encouraged to tweet using the player hashtags. The player hashtag that generates the most mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation to his charity of choice, courtesy of Nationwide.