The team intends to sign two free-agent offensive tackles on Wednesday: Chris Hubbard from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Donald Stephenson from Denver. Both agreements were first reported by the NFL Network.
Hubbard is primarily a right tackle; he started 14 games there in four seasons with Pittsburgh. Stephenson is considered a depth signing.
Thomas, who is rehabbing from a torn triceps tendon, said recently he will decide his future based on his health. He had said he would let the Browns know his decision before the start of free agency, which arrives Wednesday at 4 p.m.
The Browns were reported to be talking to left tackle Nate Solder of the New England Patriots, but it’s not known how close the Browns are to signing him. Cleveland.com reported that the Browns would add Solder only if Thomas retires.
Hubbard does have versatility, and his signing could allow Shon Coleman to move from right to left tackle. But the Browns did not believe they had a replacement on the roster if Thomas retired. Browns GM John Dorsey is taking action because even if Thomas plays it’s expected to be for only one season.
Thomas said he has tried out for analyst jobs at Fox and ESPN, and he and former Browns and Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins have developed a popular podcast on NFL topics and issues called “The ThomaHawk Show.”
Thomas also has been vocal on Twitter in evaluating free-agent moves — even criticizing cornerback Richard Sherman for the contract he took with the San Francisco 49ers.
Hubbard, 26, played well enough in 2017 to price himself out of Pittsburgh and position himself for a quality contract elsewhere.
The Steelers have one of the league’s highest offensive line payrolls and have understood keeping Hubbard — their third tackle in the rotation behind Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert — wasn’t likely.
Hubbard started 10 games in place of Gilbert, who was injured and served a four-game suspension. Though the Steelers consider Gilbert one of the game’s best right tackles, the offense did not experience a major drop-off with Hubbard, who earned praise from coach Mike Tomlin for his fill-in role.
Hubbard, who went undrafted out of UAB in 2013, adds value with his versatility. He plays all five spots on the offensive line. The Steelers can transition Jerald Hawkins, a fourth-round pick in 2016, into Hubbard’s swing tackle role.
The Denver Broncos signed Stephenson in free agency in 2016, hoping he would be a solution at right tackle. It didn’t work out as the Broncos had hoped, however, as he often struggled in pass protection during the ’16 season before he lost the starting job to Menelik Watson last season.
Stephenson, 29, got a brief look at left tackle in offseason work before the Broncos elected to start rookie Garett Bolles there. Ultimately Stephenson’s season was derailed by a calf injury and he played in just seven games, including four starts in place of an injured Watson.
Information from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Jeff Legwold contribute to this report.