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Thomas looks to bright Browns future with new deal in hand

BEREA, Ohio -- Dripping with sweat, Browns tackle Joe Thomas stood in the end zone after practice and discussed his contract extension, a deal that will keep him in Cleveland the rest of his pro career.

Most players would make such a milestone announcement at a splashy news conference with all the bells and whistles.

Thomas isn't most.

"Typical Joe," tight end Evan Moore said. "Joe's the ultimate professional."

A Pro Bowl-selection in each of his four NFL seasons, Thomas will be Cleveland's left tackle for a long time. On Monday night, Thomas signed a seven-year, $84 million extension to stay with the Browns, who during an inglorious return to the league as an expansion team have not made any smarter move than drafting the former Wisconsin All-American with the third overall pick in 2007.

Thomas wanted to keep negotiations and the contract private, so as not to upstage any of his teammates as they get ready for their first season under new coach Pat Shurmur.

The Browns have not yet formally announced Thomas' signing, which includes nearly $44 million in guaranteed money.

After practice, the 6-foot-6, 312-pound Thomas explained his decision to remain with the Browns, who have had just two winning seasons since 1999. Thomas was entering the final year of his rookie contract, and could have tested free agency following the season. However, he's excited about the future in Cleveland, a team and city he believes are on the cusp of greatness.

"The things that I've seen here in the last couple years, the type of coaches that we're bringing in here, the type of players we're bringing in, the staff that we put together, it's really exciting for me to see the direction this franchise is headed," he said. "That was the main reason that I wanted to stay here and continue to work on this journey."

Thomas had his doubts. Shurmur is the third coach he has played for, following Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini, neither of whom had any sustained success with the Browns. Thomas said he became convinced there was a bright future in Cleveland not long after owner Randy Lerner hired former Green Bay and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren as his president to oversee the Browns.

"A couple years ago there were a lot of questions about the future of this franchise, a lot of instability not only in the front office, but the coaching staff and players," Thomas said. "I think right now, the vision that everybody has, the way everyone is on the same page, there is nothing but success in the future here. I wouldn't have stayed if I didn't see those things. To me, it's all about winning and that's why I wanted to stay here.

"I could have tried to go to free agency, but I really wanted to be here. I love Cleveland and have loved this organization since the day I walked out here. More importantly, this is going to be a heck of a franchise."

Thomas has played in all 64 games since joining the Browns. His work ethic and commitment to get better are unmatched and Moore said he and his teammates share a deep respect for Thomas.

"Joe is just consistent," Moore said. "I don't think he's ever missed a practice, let alone a game. He's always out here. He's always working on his body in the weight room and working on staying healthy. Now you see him get rewarded like that and to me, he just really sets the example as 'this is how you do it.' He's just a steady presence and I'm not surprised in the least bit that they wanted him for another seven years."

Shurmur, a former college center at Michigan State, has a great appreciation for Thomas as a technician on the line. He also admires the way Thomas goes about his business in practice. He makes it easier for the coaches.

"He's a good run blocker, pass blocker and a terrific leader," Shurmur said. "When rookies come into the league as coaches we tell them what we expect, we set standards. But when you can say, 'Watch how he does it,' that's when you got something. When you have guys on your team like that, it helps the younger guys along quicker."

Notes:Browns RB Peyton Hillis sat out practice with a sore lower back. Shurmur doesn't think "it's a big deal" and assumes Hillis will play on Thursday in Philadelphia. ... Moore was back at practice after sustaining a mild concussion against Detroit on Friday. Moore had an impressive day in red-zone drills. ... RB Montario Hardesty is excited about getting his first action since undergoing knee surgery against the Eagles. "It's time to go," Hardesty said. ... Among the other notables not practicing: WR Josh Cribbs, OG Eric Steinbach, S T.J. Ward, LB Chris Gocong and RB Brandon Jackson.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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