J.C. Tretter was a star for the Cleveland Browns, and a superstar for the NFLPA.
J.C. Tretter is gone from the Cleveland Browns, but left his mark on the NFL forever. He was the real MVP of the sport the past two years. Not only has he been an exceptional football player, but he put the entire NFL on his back and led them through the Covid-19 crisis.
However, the Browns had the opportunity to clear cap space and they took it. They were clearing cap space in order to afford a mega-expensive quarterback, it turns out.
On the field, Tretter was a fabulous player for the Browns. Covid got him for one game last season. Other than that, he was on the field for every game in his Browns career and – shades of Joe Thomas – did not miss a snap in five years. Holy cow!
For whatever reason, the Browns have had an uncanny ability to find offensive linemen who have had incredible longevity streaks, including Joe Thomas, Doug Dieken, Mitchell Schwartz and Tretter. But this is not normal. There must be a special ingredient in the stadium hot dogs or something.
Tretter is a veteran who knows the playbook and knows how to take care of his body. For that reason, he often does not practice with the team during the week. But he shows up on Sunday.
Pro Football Focus has ranked him in the top-10 among NFL centers since he joined the Browns. He was rated second overall in 2020. However, he has never made it to a Pro Bowl or been recognized as an All-Pro.
This was strictly a salary cap move, not a reflection on Tretter’s play. He is 31-years old, however, and that factors into it as well.
The Browns have younger, cheaper options at center. They like Nick Harris, who they drafted to play the position. For one game, he graded out about the same as Tretter. They have also given some pre-season snaps to Michael Dunn and Blake Hance at the position.
They both looked like natural centers. Both Dunn and Hance have played guard and tackle and both of them belong in the interior. They have the smarts to call signals for the offensive line and the ability to block, but perhaps not the size, athleticism, and mobility that we would like to see for a Browns offensive tackle in a zone-blocking scheme.
Ex-Patriot Hjalte Froholdt played some center in college, and if backup Drew Forbes ever gets healthy, he can also play the position. That’s why the economics of cap management made sense for the Browns to move on from Tretter. We may not like it, but that is reality.
What really sets Tretter apart is his work as President of the NFLPA. It wasn’t just negotiating deals for the NFL rank-and-file, though of course, he did that. He really held the entire league together in 2020, when all of sports was about to fragment due to Covid.
It seems like centuries ago, but some prominent sports organizations were advocating shutting down completely, like the Big 10 and Pac-12 in college football. Even the SEC and ACC were playing only a limited schedule. Some people were saying that Contact sports would result in the death of players, and their deaths would be the responsibility of the sports organizations.
On the other hand, some of the owners thought that Covid should be treated like lepracy. If a player got sick, the owners wanted to put them on the Non-Football Injury list, without pay. No kidding, that was really their plan.
This being America, everyone had very strongly held opinions, and the NFL needed someone to talk sense to the warring parties. That man was J.C. Tretter, who forced the NFL owners to come to the negotiating table.
His message was basically one of common sense, and was paraphrased as follows, “Listen, this isn’t about money. We just can’t have a season unless we have some agreement on how to handle this situation. You are not going to have 32 different Covid policies. It’s a national crisis and we are going to have to negotiate a solution to lead the nation through it.”
Against the advice of those who warned that the NFL was risking the lives of the athletes, Tretter and the NFLPA put together common-sense proposals that would allow persons with concerns to take a leave of absence without repercussions; to require testing and social distancing, and to expand practice squads for NFL teams.
There was no zero-risk solution, but everyone had to accept that there was going to be some risk that was going to be managed as best as possible. The owners eventually realized that it was the only way that they could play games and embraced the plan, and they got every game in.
This writer was not joking when he suggested that Tretter would be a great leader in Washington DC someday. Lord knows the people we have (supposedly) representing our interests in Congress do a very poor job. Tretter is an Ivy League graduate (Cornell University, College of Industry and Labor Relations) and has proven himself to be a skilled negotiator.
The country could do worse than to send up a 4-foot-4, 307-pound guy from Cornell to go up against Vladimir Putin to negotiate terms for a peace deal. I don’t know what party he belongs to, and I don’t even care. I will vote for him.
Thank you, J.C. You deserve the Hall of Fame for what you have done for the game.