The Packers will see a familiar face on Sunday when Chicago Bears linebacker Joe Thomas takes the field. Thomas signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and has been a story of perseverance ever since.
His story in Green Bay was nearly over before it started. An injury in training camp his first season landed him on injured reserve, and he was waived shortly thereafter. He caught on with the Packers’ practice squad later in 2014 and was around for training camp in 2015 before again being released.
The Dallas Cowboys came calling, though, and signed Thomas to their practice squad shortly after he was cut by the Packers. But after an injury to linebacker Jake Ryan early in the season, the Packers signed Thomas to their active roster, sending him right back to Green Bay after only a few weeks in Texas. Thomas appeared in 14 games for the Packers that season, logging 249 snaps on defense and earning a regular role on special teams, playing 261 snaps (65%) on kick and punt units that year. He finished third on the team in special teams tackles that season.
Thomas would stick around in Green Bay for the next two years, most notably as a seven-game starter in 2016. That same year, Thomas’ 55-year-old father also made a noteworthy appearance of his own, carrying one time for three yards in a game for South Carolina State.
After the 2017 season, Thomas was back to the Dallas Cowboys, where he played for another three years, filling a similar role there as he did in Green Bay. He appeared in 40 games for the Cowboys, including six starts.
Thomas spent the 2021 season as a part-time player for both the Texans and Ravens, mainly on special teams. His luck turned for the better in 2022, when he signed a one-year deal with the Bears. He was released late in training camp, but returned to the Bears’ practice squad and made it to the active roster in Week 3. He’s appeared in every game since and has been fairly effective. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s been the Bears’ third-highest-graded defensive player.
To be sure, that’s not a particularly high bar in Chicago this year, and Thomas has only played 165 snaps on defense so he’s getting graded on a pretty small sample size. But it’s still an achievement for an undersized linebacker to have a place in the league after nearly a decade. And looking at his career to date, it’d be hard to bet against him continuing to find work in the future, whether that’s in Chicago or somewhere else.