At his first press conference as the Browns head coach, Hue Jackson wasted little time doling out praise toward his longest-tenured player.
"Joe Thomas is one of the best left tackles in this league, bar none," Jackson said. "He is a tremendous football player and has been. He has been one of the cornerstones of this organization and this football team."
The 10 months that have followed have only solidified that assessment.
"Joe is a blessing, in my opinion, to me and to our coaching staff," Jackson said earlier this month. "Anytime you have a guy who has been through so many different situations here, I have a great respect for that. It is not easy being Joe Thomas. It is not easy going through what he has been through, but at the same time, I think he understands where we are and what we are trying to do, and I think he truly, honestly wants to be a part of where we are headed."
It's all added up to Thomas' nomination for the NFL's Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, an honor that was announced Tuesday. Created in 2014 in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Rooney Sr., the award recognizes players around the league who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship on the field.
Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald won the inaugural award in 2014 and former Raiders safety Charles Woodson won it last year.
Thomas, a nine-time Pro Bowler, has never missed a snap since he began his NFL career with the Browns in 2007. He's appeared in 154 games and started in all them, good for the second-longest streak among active NFL offensive linemen.
The winner of the NFL Sportsmanship Award is determined by a vote of current NFL players. A panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community will select eight finalists (four in the AFC and four in the NFC) from the 32 nominees. The panel is comprised of Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler.
The winner, which will be selected by the vote of the players, will be announced during the NFL Honors show on Saturday, February 4 on FOX, the night before Super Bowl LI. He will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice.
Veteran quarterback Josh McCown was the Browns' nominee last year.