Richardson trade surprising, not shocking

Posted Sep 18, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci says that, although the trade of Trent Richardson is a surprise, it isn’t all that much of a shock in the grand scheme of things.


No, I didn’t see this coming, either.

Not when we were preparing to put Trent Richardson’s photo on the cover of the program for the season-opener against Miami.

Not when we were seeing to it that his photo would show up on all versions of the Browns’ mobile app.

I saw Richardson the way most of you saw Richardson – as a face, if not THE face, of the franchise.

To that extent, I was surprised by the news that he was traded to the Colts Wednesday for a first-round draft pick.

And I fully expected to hear the heavy backlash from fans who can’t fathom the idea of parting ways with a player of his magnitude only 17 games into his career and two games into the season.

I get the anger. I get the outrage. I get the fury.

I also get this: The Browns do not know if they have a franchise quarterback or the promise of one.

The most likely place they will find one, if they so choose, is next year’s draft. And with a second first-round choice and with a total of 10 picks (so far) overall, the Browns would have the necessary ammunition to position themselves well enough to land that guy.

That’s the main reason why my surprise over the Richardson deal didn’t turn to shock, why it began to have a little more rhyme and reason once it started to sink in.

In the grand scheme of things, you can actually follow the logic behind it.

For the longest time, we’ve been hearing about the Browns’ plan for building sustainable success. It has mostly taken the form of dialogue from chief executive officer Joe Banner, although there has been some walk with the talk, such as the trades that upgraded fourth- and fifth-round picks for next year.

The Richardson move is the most definitive statement of all that everything the Browns are doing this year is in keeping with a vision that encompasses the next several seasons.

Building an offense around Richardson was never a part of that vision. It was what the franchise’s previous administration pictured when it invested the third overall pick of the draft in the former Alabama star.

Under the best of circumstances, with a franchise quarterback firmly in place, a running back is a complementary piece in an offense with multiple big-play components. He gets upwards of 18, maybe 20 carries, per game – especially when the passing attack has helped build a nice lead and the effort is to close out the win – but his more important role is catching passes.

Richardson wasn’t even being utilized on third down, mainly because of his suspect blocking. The Browns’ coaches felt fullback Chris Ogbonnaya was a more trustworthy pass-protector and every bit as effective a receiver as Richardson.

At his best, Richardson is a physical, contact-style runner. In the offense of coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, there is far greater value in a back who is exceptionally quick and elusive – someone like Dion Lewis, whom the Browns acquired in an under-the-radar trade with the Eagles and then lost to a season-ending broken leg in the preseason.

Understandably, fans bought into the idea of an offense relying primarily on Richardson’s powerful legs. Even if they embraced the undeniable fact that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and teams that don’t have top-flight quarterbacking don’t win, they didn’t let go of the premise that a strong running game is an important element to success.

Which is why they are having a hard time accepting that there can be anything good in saying goodbye to Richardson. After all, if his value to the Browns was so little, why would the Colts give up a first-round draft pick for him?

The answer is twofold. The Colts have their franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck. They also use a power-oriented offense that requires the physical running style that Richardson provides.

The fact they would give up a first-round pick for a running back is still a bit stunning, given that the position does not generally translate to a pathway to postseason contention. The very best back in the NFL is Adrian Peterson, and his 2012 MVP season was good enough to allow the Vikings to go only as far as the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Still, even with Luck, the Colts were hit hard enough by injury in their offensive backfield to clearly consider themselves desperate for running back help. The Browns capitalized on that desperation. And, ultimately, it would figure to help them land their version of Luck … Peyton Manning … Tom Brady … Drew Brees ... if that, in fact, becomes their priority for the 2014 draft.

Right now, the prospect of acquiring that player is a long way off. Right now, the Browns are asking, once again, for fans to be patient and buy their plan for sustainable success.

During a news conference Wednesday night, Banner said he can understand the fans’ “skepticism” and that the team has to “earn their belief and trust in the decisions we make as a group.”

Here’s something to consider as you shake your head and swipe your hand in the air with disgust: The same people who brought you the Richardson trade are the same people who acquired Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, Quentin Groves, and Barkevious Mingo … a.k.a. the primary ingredients of what so far looks like a pretty dominant defensive front.

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