Joe Thomas woke up three weeks ago hopeful that he might be among the lucky 53 to make the Green Bay Packers’ roster.
A few hours later, the Packers gave the first-year inside linebacker his release. The following day, Thomas was forced to find a new NFL home when the organization chose to go with two other linebackers, Carl Bradford and James Vaughters, on their practice squad instead of him.
Thomas never wanted to leave Green Bay, but business is business. So he left behind the friendships he forged in the Packers’ locker room and relocated to his next opportunity on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad.
That was until earlier this week when Thomas was informed by his agent, Brian Anderson, that the Packers were interested in bringing him back after losing starter Sam Barrington for the season. After spending a year clawing his way to the active roster, Thomas’ journey is finally complete.
It just took a brief detour through Dallas.
“When I first left, I was kind of heartbroken. I’m not going to lie,” Thomas said. “As a player, you have to understand that it’s a business and at a certain point in time you have to move on. I had moved on. Tried to forget about everything and all my friends I have here. As soon as I got that call, I was happy to come back.”
Thomas (6-1, 227) is a tad undersized, but impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and a tenacious approach to tackling. It’s what first earned him a bid for a roster spot last summer before he injured his knee in the Packers’ preseason opener against Tennessee.
Thomas had a full offseason to digest the playbook of defensive coordinator Dom Capers since returning on the practice squad in November. With only three inside linebackers on the roster, the Packers could put Thomas to use as early as Monday night’s game against Kansas City.
The organization agreed to pay Thomas’ salary for the next three weeks by signing off another team’s practice squad. Thomas hopes his stay in the team’s main locker room lasts longer than just that.
“It’s been a little stressful, but you have to understand that this is a business and decisions have to be made,” Thomas said. “You just have to live with them and move on. Once I got that call to come back, it was almost like a sigh of relief. I started here. I’m comfortable here.”
He's now reunited with his roommate, Jayrone Elliott, who was one of the first to reach out and offer his congratulations. Thomas had to pack quickly when he left for Texas, but said he made sure not to throw out any of his Packers’ apparel.
It's a good thing that he didn’t.
“I was a little upset, but I didn’t throw anything out because in the back of my mind, I really feel like this is where I kind of belong in a way,” said Thomas, smiling.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.