Browns trade Trent Richardson to Colts: Why I Love the Move

My Thursday column is supposed to be a film study of the previous week’s Browns game. But when something as crazy as “Cleveland Browns trade Trent Richardson to the Colts for a first round pick” happens, you have to call an audible as a writer. My initial response upon hearing the news, like most people, was complete shock. On the surface, trading your top draft pick after only 18 games for what isn’t going to amount to where he was drafted doesn’t make much sense at all. However, as the news began to settle into my mind I totally understand it.

Let’s start by looking at the trade from the vantage-point of the guys who did it: Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner. Most fans look at the trade as throwing away our top draft pick from the last draft. Lombardi and Banner only look at it as trading a guy on the roster. They didn’t make the decision to draft Richardson, they have nothing invested in him. To them, he’s just another guy who they inherited on their roster just like Brandon Weeden, Joe Thomas, Travis Benjamin, or Greg Little. When you bring in a new front office this is what happens. They can’t afford to think like fans. They have to treat these guys like assets to get better.

As most people have pointed out, Lombardi was publicly not a fan of drafting a running back, even if it’s Richardson, at the No. 3 pick in the draft, let alone trading up to do it.[1] I searched Google to try and find that in print or video and couldn’t find it but I do seem to remember a lot of people being critical of that decision made by Tom Heckert—myself being one of them…but we’ll get there in a moment. It doesn’t appear that Lombardi and Banner view running backs that highly. When Banner was in Philadelphia he typically took his running backs in the middle rounds and had very good success doing it: see Brian Westbrook (pick 91) and LeSean McCoy (pick 53). If you don’t view running backs as being that valuable, then the trade of one for a first round pick is a no-brainer.

While most fans spent all Wednesday evening freaking out on Twitter about wanting jersey exchanges and ticket refunds the guys in charge can’t think about that. While the fans are pissed now, if the trade works out and gets the Browns back in the playoffs then they’ll understand it. Ultimately the fans will only be happy if the team is a winner. That’s what will sell. We’re only rooting for laundry at the end of the day. This trade is a little more difficult to swallow because Richardson was a top draft pick and a guy that the organization was selling as a face-of-the-franchise guy. But Lombardi and Banner can’t look at it that way. They have to worry about building a winner, no matter what means get them there.

Finally on Lombardi and Banner, check out what’s written on the wall of the Browns war room…

“We will be BOLD
We will be great in both the LINES
We will be a TOTAL TEAM
We will do our JOBS”

Lombardi and Banner recognize that the path to the Super Bowl involves having a great QB. It sure seems like they don’t believe they have one in Weeden. If they don’t believe that Weeden is the guy then getting that “championship level QB” has to be priority No. 1. Nothing else matters until you get that done. Having a great running back doesn’t help you get a great quarterback. In fact, having a great running back doesn’t MAKE a great quarterback. Just look at this Sunday’s opponent the Minnesota Vikings. Adrian Peterson is hands-down the best running back in the NFL. What have they won with him? He was the NFL MVP last season and almost broke the rushing record and the Vikings barely made the playoffs. Why? Because they don’t have a “championship level QB” and that’s what matters most. Even if the Browns front office believes that Trent Richardson is a future Hall of Famer that doesn’t get them a Super Bowl because he’s not a quarterback, and that’s where we are with the NFL today.

Now, as for how I feel about the trade…I like it. I’m totally in favor of it. I’m an unapologetic eternal optimist. I choose to find the positives in the moves the Cleveland teams make because life is too short to be pissed off all the time. With that said, I buy into this trade without having to tap into my optimistic side. I wasn’t in favor of drafting Richardson at No. 3 in 2012 and the only reason I saw to buy into it was because I liked the pick of Weeden as a franchise QB. I think most running backs are a dime a dozen. From everything I read and saw about Richardson coming out of the draft I bought into the idea that he was the best running back since Peterson and a future Hall of Famer. If they hadn’t gotten a QB then I would have been down of it. That being said, and looking back at that draft, they probably should have taken Ryan Tannehill instead. The only reason you pass on Tannehill in 2012 is if you believe that Weeden is better in my opinion. I’ve written a lot about QBs in the past and I’ll continue to trumpet my feelings that you MUST take a QB in the first round. Statistically your odds are far superior of finding a franchise QB in the first round than you are after it. But we’re getting away from the point…

Besides the point that I wasn’t in favor of drafting Richardson that was only because of my feelings about first round RBs. I wanted to like him as a player because he plays—er…played—for my team. But through his 17 NFL games, I have been thoroughly unimpressed with Trent Richardson. The fact is that Richardson was drafted to be a game-changer and a work-horse back. He has not been that to this point. He isn’t even a three-down back. They took him out every third down. I understand that he was dealing some injury issues last year. But he was underwhelming nonetheless. In today’s NFL it’s unacceptable for a starting running back to not reach 1000 yards rushing in a season. In 2012 Richardson only averaged 63.3 yards rushing per game and only 3.6 yards per attempt. He had 11 rushing TDs but as I’ve said before, any coach will tell you that touchdowns are more of a team than individual accomplishment. Now if he was busting off 50-60 yard runs then maybe you could make a bigger case. But Richardson’s long rush on the season was only 32 yards.

Look at that number again…32 yards. That’s insane for a starting “franchise” running back.

In 2012 Richardson had the 11th most rushing attempts in the NFL (267). He was the only back in the top 15 that didn’t eclipse the thousand yard mark. Of the top 19 guys he had the shortest long rush and also the fewest 20+ yard rushes (2, tied with Shonn Greene). To put that number in perspective (as if saying he had the same as Shonn Greene wasn’t enough), Adrian Peterson had 27 20+ yard rushes. CJ Spiller had 60 fewer carries and 10 more 20+ yard rushes. Michael Bush—yes, that old slow plodding Michael Bush—only had 114 rushing attempts and even he managed to get 2 20+ yard rushes last season. I realize that all of this doesn’t land squarely on Richardson. The O-Line could have done a better job. But I watched every game last season on the coaches film and Richardson didn’t hit holes hard.[2] He was constantly dancing in the backfield instead of hitting the hole and trusting it to open up. Furthermore, when he had the blocking, he wasn’t explosive at all.

And that was just last season. This season (while only two games thus far) has been even worse—only 3.4 YPC and 52.5 YPG. Watching him on film he still isn’t hitting holes hard or reading the lanes right. Richardson’s 31 carries are the 14th most in the NFL this season and his long run of ten yards is the shortest among that group again. Furthermore, his 3.4 YPC rank him 30th in the NFL in rushing. Additionally it seemed like Richardson had a hard time lining up at times and looked confused about what the play was. More food for thought…Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun and National Football Post sent out the following tweet yesterday:

It’s worth noting that the founder of National Football Post is current Browns GM Mike Lombardi. So take that for what it’s worth.

Now, given the level of production that Richardson has displayed in his career to this point, if you had told me that the Browns traded him for a pick I would have guessed that they only got about a third rounder. The fact that they were able to squeeze a first round pick for a guy who’s had injury issues and has lacked production is pretty surprising. In 2010 the Buffalo Bills traded Marshawn Lynch, a guy they drafted at No. 12 in 2007, after only three seasons and three games to Seattle for a fourth round pick and a conditional fifth round pick. It’s not often that you see trades in the NFL for first round picks that don’t include either QBs or All-Pro players. So I’m thrilled that the Browns got a first round pick for Richardson.

Again, bringing it back full circle, the goal for this team is to find the right QB. That has to be the goal. Trading Richardson helps the Browns to accomplish that task.

And for the Browns fans throwing hissy fits about throwing away the season after only two games…slow the heck down. While we’re on this topic, what exactly had Richardson done through two games to help the team win? And we’re starting our third string QB, an undrafted guy who’s been cut by three teams over the past year, this week…so can it get any lower than that anyways? Browns fans need to get over this delusional idea that Richardson has been the great game-changing back that we thought he was supposed to be. He has done nothing to this point to make the Cleveland Browns a winning football team. It’s not like they traded Joe Haden, Joe Thomas, or D’Qwell Jackson or anything. The Browns traded a mediocre running back for a first round pick. Think of it like that and it feels a lot better. If you want to talk about “tanking” I think you have a better case if you bring up them starting Brian Hoyer at QB than trading Richardson.

The trade of Richardson might not make the Browns a better football team in 2013. And let’s be honest with ourselves, what’s the point anyways? They’ve looked like crap through two games and their starting QB is seeing a hand specialist. It’s not like we’re 2-0 and looking like a contender. However, I do believe that this trade will make the Browns a better football team in the long run. I believe this because I don’t believe that running backs carry that much value. I think it’s more about fit, scheme, and pieces around him than the actual talent of the guy. Plus, it’s much harder to win in today’s NFL by running rather than passing. And I’ve said this about a dozen times already in this column but I’ll say it one more time…I would never use a first round pick on a running back. So if we got a first round pick for a running back then that’s something I can get behind.

And at the end of the day…we’ve got Chris Ogbonnaya!!!

Fret not, Browns fans…Obi-wan-bonnaya is here to save the day!!![3]

[1] Still waiting for the paid writers who follow the team to do some actual documentation on this issue. I’m sorry, but writing “it’s well documented” doesn’t cut it.

[2] I found it interesting to contrast Richardson’s running style with Montario Hardesty, who always hit the hole hard last season. Consequently, he averaged 4.2 YPC and consistently looked like he was running harder and more downhill than Richardson.

[3] A little tongue-in-cheek obviously but I’m actually a big fan of Ogbonnaya. Not as a blocking fullback but I’ve really liked what he’s done as a running back in his time in Cleveland. I’ll probably do more on him tomorrow in the picks column.


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