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For Futility, or For The Future?

For Futility, or For The Future?

The Cleveland Browns, in quite a shocking move, traded starting running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday.

Go ahead. Re-read it. Let it sink in. That is not a mis-print (Sorry, Cleveland).

At first blush, most would think Cleveland’s new regime has already lost their minds. Richardson was the Browns first round choice, third overall, in the 2012 NFL draft. Even while injured for a part of last season, he still rushed for nearly 1000 yards and was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise moribund team. So why trade him now? The move makes no sense, right?

Actually, while it’s a bit unexpected and will no doubt be highly scrutinized, I do believe this was a move Joe Banner and the Cleveland front office needed to do, especially if new HC Rob Chudzinski and his staff didn’t feel that Richardson was their guy going forward. Though, considering he is only 2 games into his second professional season, and he’s gotten high marks for his talents, it is still somewhat puzzling to think that such a young talent wouldn’t fit into a team like Cleveland’s plans, considering they could use all the talent they can get.

My other gripe is the pick that they got for him. Yes, it is a first round choice. However, you sent to the Colts a young player, barely a year removed from being the third overall selection, who had a solid rookie season and should produce for years to come. And in return? A pick that, right now, would probably project to be a mid-round pick. No, I am not an NFL GM, but if unless the player was a total bust, I’d like to try to get value similar to a top 10 pick, if not a top 5 pick. For the Browns, clearly entering (another) rebuilding effort, a mid-round draft pick would have been a wise addition to the first round haul.

Those criticisms aside, here’s why I actually like this trade, for both teams.

For the Colts, it’s really quite simple. They have their franchise QB, they have a solid corps of receivers, but they’ve been underwhelming at RB, and on top of that, their depth chart for RB has been decimated by injuries. If a team comes calling offering you a former 3rd overall pick from a year ago who happens to be a likely stud RB, in exchange for your first rounder next year? It’s really a no brainer, especially if you expect to be a playoff team again, making that pick a late 1st rounder. Odds of finding a Trent Richardson type of back with that pick? Not good.

For the Browns, they are a team with more questions than answers. As good as Richardson could be, they need a lot of help (another reason why I am surprised only one pick was involved, though its not impossible for the Browns to flip that late first pick for a package on draft day next year) . And with a new coach and a new style, you have a challenge of wanting to make sure all the pieces fit. Next year’s draft will have talent, and the Browns appear to be stockpiling picks. Either so they can make moves to get their desired players, or so they can bring in a number of new players to really begin to overhaul the roster. With Richardson already gone and Brandon Weeden out for Sunday’s game, it would appear the odds of a full on reboot are high.

As for why I am OK with the trade, outside of getting picks to refresh the roster more quickly? Look around the NFL today, and the days of a first round stud running back are fading. They are the exception, not the rule anymore. You have coaches like Mike Shanahan who, year in and year out can find a 7th round pick to plug into his system and rush for over a thousand yards. Looking at the rushing leaders through week two, yes, there are a few first rounders (notably Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden). But LeSean McCoy was a second round selection. Alfred Morris was a 6th round pick. Looking at the 2012 leaders, 7 of the top 16 rushers were drafted after the first round, including two undrafted. And another, Doug Martin, was barely a 1st rounder at all being the 31st overall choice. In the 2013 draft, there was not a single RB drafted in the first round. If the Browns scout well enough and have a competent front office, they ought to be able to find a replacement providing comparable output to Richardson via a later round pick.

With their many holes, the Browns could use most of the top talents in next year’s draft, and it really is just too soon speculate. But knowing where Joe Banner has been, it’s not unreasonable to assume he would have three priorities in the rebuilding efforts-offensive and defensive line, and a franchise QB. I wouldn’t project the offensive line prospects just yet, but knowing there are prospects like Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and J’Daveon Clowney likely in play for the top choices, having two first round picks and 10 in the draft overall (so far), Banner and his staff sure look to be setting themselves up to accomplish a significant amount of overhaul in one off-season. For long-suffering Browns fans, it means yet another season mired in mediocrity, but this could be a sign that good changes are coming.

If the Browns get this right, this trade and the 2014 draft could finally lead them out of their seemingly endless futility. If they swing and miss? It’ll end up being more of the same old song for the Dawg Pound.