CLEVELAND — When Joe Thomas suffered a season-ending injury last month, Browns coach Hue Jackson descried the veteran as the heart and soul of a young team searching for its first win.
"He is Cleveland Browns football," Jackson said. "He's a guy that keeps us all going and moving forward."
It's probably no surprise, then, that Thomas was nominated for the NFL's Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award on Tuesday despite his absence on the field.
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 Colts running back Frank Gore won it last season.
Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowler, played 10,363 consecutive snaps until suffering a triceps injury against the Titans three weeks ago. Even so, Thomas remains an integral part of a team still searching for its first win. Unable to practice, he still comes to practice as something of an assistant coach, lending his experience and expertise in the process.
"He is a mentor to a lot of these guys in a lot of different ways. Having him out there and having him be involved is huge," Jackson said. "This is still his team. Having him around and having him want to be a part of that is very important to me, to our players, to our staff and to all involved."
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, Fec. 3 on NBC, the night before Super Bowl LII. He will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice