The Cleveland Browns shocked NFL fans yesterday by trading Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first round pick.
It was out of nowhere, and everyone’s immediate reaction, myself included, was: What the fuck is Cleveland doing?
Once I had a chance to calm down, it was: Oh, so they’re tanking for Jadeveon Clowney/Teddy Bridgewater?
A little while later, I realized: Oh, this was a no-brainer for the Browns. And while I understand it for the Colts, I’m not sure I like it for them.
The Browns won this trade. It might pay off for the Colts, too, but the Browns won this trade.
The most obvious criticism of the Browns is: Why would you give up on a guy you picked third overall in the draft just a year ago?
Well, you’re right. That’s dumb. Usually. Richardson hasn’t been especially productive to start his career (3.5 ypc), but he’s supremely talented and has shown plenty of promise. And the main reason he’s struggled has been Cleveland’s lackluster offensive line and passing game. Trent Richardson did a relatively good job given his awful circumstances.
So, why give up on him again? Because this is the point. This is why it’s smart. Richardson hasn’t lived up to his potential, because running backs are ridiculously overvalued in the NFL, and unless you’re getting someone of Adrian Peterson’s caliber, a legit once-in-a-generation talent, you’re wasting the third overall pick if you select a running back. Richardson has a $20+ million, all guaranteed contract, but the Browns offense has still been stork-droppings because he can’t make an impact on such a dreadful offense.
And, well, there’s a new general manager in there. Mike Lombardi is just cleaning up the last regime’s (PLENTIFUL) mistakes, so you can’t fault him for giving up on a decision from a year ago. It’s smart to cut ties as quickly as possible and salvage things as best as possible.
Also, who are these idiots that are guaranteeing the Colts pick will be in the mid-20s or later? The Colts are a mediocre team with a ton of holes, that can only be masked so much by Andrew Luck. Oddsmakers pegged their win total at 8 before the year, and they’re currently 1-1 with a near-loss to the Raiders on their resume. They will likely be favored in six or seven more games, maximum, the rest of the season. Their schedule is very tough. Look at it. They will have to vastly exceed expectations to make the playoffs.
They’re probably not making the playoffs, and they have the same serious offensive line problems that the Browns have. And their defense is far worse than the Browns’. Trent is certainly a nice addition, but if the Colts don’t make the playoffs, which seems likely, they’ll regret giving up a mid-first-round pick for a running back they didn’t put in an environment to succeed. Just like the Browns did a year ago.
But what do the Browns get out of this?
Well, first of all, they’re not really tanking. Yes, they traded their most talented skill player, but he hadn’t been contributing all that much. To wit: oddsmakers didn’t move this week’s Browns-Vikings point spread at all upon the trade’s announcement. That means that oddsmakers, and the betting market, feel that Trent Richardson is worth literally nothing to the Browns in the current situation. And that’s really not a knock on Trent. It’s a knock on the Browns’ supporting cast, and it’s a knock on the school of thought that running backs can succeed on their own. They can’t.
Also, benching an injured Brandon Weeden, for anyone, does not qualify as tanking. Weeden was so bad that replacing him with Jürgen Klopp couldn’t possibly be anything more than a minor drop-off.
So, the Browns remain a team with a solid, promising defense (giving up just 2 ypc on the season so far), and a mostly-talentless expanse on offense. They’ll play some surprisingly close games, but likely be in the running for a top pick. They aren’t “tanking,” because they didn’t get much worse, but they will likely not be very good.
And now they’ll have one very high pick, one probably-mid-round pick, a second rounder, two third-rounders, two fourth-rounders and other picks. In a draft rife with skill-position talent, they could come away with their quarterback of the future (Bridgewater/Boyd/Manziel/Mariota/Hundley/McCarron/Morris/Fales/Murray/whoever the fuck they like the most), and another explosive threat (Sammy Watkins?), or maybe even Clowney if they nab a top-two pick. They’ll miss Trent, but not too much, if they get two of these guys.
Because Trent can’t do it all by himself. But you know who can? A top-flight quarterback, especially if paired with Watkins/Josh Gordon/Jordan Cameron and a decent free agent/rookie running back.
Seriously, if all this happens? The Browns will just be in similar position to the Colts, except that they’ll actually have a defense.