Posted September 19, 2013

Richardson trade tells us what Browns think of their past, present, and future

AFC North, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts
This is so last year: Former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur and Trent Richardson at Richardson's first Browns press conference in April, 2012. (Diamond Images/Getty Images)

This is so last year: Former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur and Trent Richardson at Richardson’s first Browns press conference in April, 2012. (Diamond Images/Getty Images)

If nothing else, the last 14 months have marked a time of severe change for the Cleveland Browns. On Aug. 2, 2012, Jimmy Haslam purchased majority ownership in the franchise from Randy Lerner. Haslam has since found new men to be his CEO, general manager, head coach, and offensive and defensive coordinators. Haslam bought the Browns just a few months after former team president Mike Holmgren and ex-GM Tom Heckert selected Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with their two first-round picks.

In one day, the new Cleveland Browns set fire to the remnants of the old Cleveland Browns — and that blaze could not have been more definitive had it happened on the Cuyahoga River. On Wednesday morning, the team announced that Weeden would not play against the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday because of a thumb injury. Brian Hoyer, a longtime favorite of current GM Mike Lombardi, will replace Weeden in the short term — and if you read the tea leaves, in the longer term as well.

Then, the bombshell. The Browns traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts Wednesday afternoon for the Colts’ first-round draft pick in 2014. This was not a move made because there’s untold talent behind Richardson. In fact, the new brain trust is reportedly looking hard at former Bills, Ravens, and Broncos running back Willis McGahee as a short-term solution. McGahee hasn’t been with a team since the Broncos cut him loose in June. He’s a 32-year-old back who will most likely be a cheap alternative, and that’s important for the Browns’ positional accounting. According to NFL business expert Andrew Brandt, Cleveland has already paid out more than $13 million of Richardson’s $20.489 million rookie contract.

Clearly, this is not about the here and now — this is about the Browns’ future, and who will define it. Now, Lombardi, CEO Joe Banner, and head coach Rob Chudzinski are in the same position Holmgren and Shurmur were in 2012; they just have to wait until next April to reap the benefits of a draft in which they hold the table with two first-round picks.

“Trent’s a great player and we expect him to have success in this league,” Banner said on Wednesday. “Right now, based on how we’re building this team for sustainable success, we’re going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team that consistently wins.”

For better or worse, GM Mike Lombardi (l.) and CEO Joe Banner are casting aside the old Cleveland Browns. (Diamond Images/Getty Images)

For better or worse, GM Mike Lombardi (l.) and CEO Joe Banner are casting aside the old Cleveland Browns. (Diamond Images/Getty Images)

The present is far more nebulous for these Browns. There had been talk that Chudzinski didn’t feel that Richardson fit in his offense, and this move certainly gives him a clean slate down the road. Chudzinski was McGahee’s offensive coordinator at the University of Miami in 2001 and 2002, so there’s a familiarity there, as long as “Chud” understands that he won’t be getting the same guy who ran for 28 touchdowns for the Hurricanes in that second season.

From a usage standpoint, it was already clear that the new Browns had an issue with their old running back. After the team’s season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins, new offensive coordinator Norv Turner was asked about the curious practice of taking Richardson off the field in third-down situations in favor of Chris Ogbonnaya. Turner cited the fact that Richardson had missed time in training camp, which was a strategy sold by the organization as a way to keep him fresh for further opportunities.

“A lot of it is where we’re at as a group,” Turner said at the time. “We want Trent on the field. There’s some things he’s ready to handle in that third down stuff and our nickel package … there’s some things we want to use him in there and we’re going to use him when we can.”

Richardson was surprised by the switch, but endorsed whatever strategy that worked.

“All my life, I’ve been that guy,” he said. “If it’s going to help the team that I get less carries, or more carries, then I’m all for it. I can’t way for that day to come when I’m getting 25 reps plus. I know coach felt like he let me down. It’s not like that. I’m behind coach 100 percent.

“I told him, fine, I know you had a game plan and when you get behind, it’s hard to run the ball.”

Richardson will no doubt get more chances in a Colts system that features backs in different ways, and with a quarterback in Andrew Luck who thrives on play-action opportunities. As for the Browns? Well, they spent most of their free agency money on the defensive side of the ball, and it’s clear that whatever resources they have in 2014 will be allocated to the offense — especially in the draft.

And in that regard, Banner and Lombardi will have a better shot at a franchise-defining quarterback than Holmgren and Heckert did. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin went with the first two picks in 2012, leaving the Browns to take Richardson third overall. And by the time their 22nd-overall pick came around, Ryan Tannehill was gone as well. Weeden was thought to be the best available quarterback option in a pool that then contained Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Lindley, and some kid from Wisconsin named Russell Wilson. Of course, had the Browns taken a shot on Wilson before the Seahawks took him 75th overall, we’d be telling a very different story now — but that could be said of quite a few franchises.

The 2014 quarterback class looks just as compelling up top, and it could be far more definitive from a depth perspective. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd are the big names, and Johnny Manziel is the ultimate wild card. At the second level, A.J. McCarron of Alabama, Miami’s Stephen Morris, San Jose State’s David Fales, and Georgia’s Aaron Murray are among those potential NFL signal-callers who could be on the Browns’ radar. As for running backs, that position generally takes more time to even itself out through the draft process.

One thing’s for sure: From top to bottom, the current Browns are on the hook for whatever happens next. And while that gives the new regime a similar shot at franchise redefinition, it’s entirely possible that these new Browns have simply set fire to the same old lake.

23 comments
CraigWachs
CraigWachs

look-ee here browns fans , i love this trade for next year, 1st there going no where this year , so look ahead to draft .. jacksonville most likly takes bridgewater , browns take Clowney #2 and then wait or trade up for next best QB....NOT A BAD DEAL

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

With their track record I would be looking ahead also too depressing to  look the other way. Good move for them they're not a playoff team may as well stock up on draft picks. As good as Richardson may be good RBs are easy enough to  get in a league that is a passing one now

BlueSheen
BlueSheen

This is probably a good move for the Browns.  By the time they are going to be a competitive team Richardson will be on the downside of his career. 

ScottKent
ScottKent

"Weeden was thought to be the best available quarterback option in a pool that then contained Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Lindley, and some kid from Wisconsin named Russell Wilson. Of course, had the Browns taken a shot on Wilson before the Seahawks took him 75th overall, we’d be telling a very different story now — but that could be said of quite a few franchises."

-Like maybe everyone of them that let that Brady kid from Michigan slide to the 6th round?

LeeStover
LeeStover

 I feel sick. sick to my stomach. i've been a browns fan all my life, and i'm 61. i love the game of football. i believe in rooting for the home team no matter how good or how bad they are. i have friends and relatives who root for other teams. they either feel sorry for me or laugh at the ineptitude of the team i love. i have gone thru the good years of the browns, namely the cardiac kids, remember them? that's when you could have pride in them. then our team was knee-jerked away from us and taken to baltimore. there they have won a couple of super bowls. i still held my head high, because after a few years we had a team again. thru all the regime changes, all the miserable seasons, i still believed the next regime would bring about a winner. i believed in the different ownerships. and i truly truly believed that haslem, banner, chud & turner were finally finally going to be the winning combination. now this. why the best option for offense on our team??? he may be mediocre, but now we will never know if he would have worked out for us. i believe he will be a star in indy. the combo of rich and luck will give browns fans nightmares for the next 8-10 years.

today, i'm still a fan. but here's fair warning to the ownership of the cleveland browns, the team i have loved for 61 years... "With this a$$inine move, you had best produce a winning team soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

i mean who's next, Joe Thomas???

hey, i bet you could get ANOTHER first round pick for him!!!

PRODUCE NOW!!! or i'm done...

TeeHolmes
TeeHolmes

Maybe this is an indictment on how overrated Alabama running backs are. I can't think of anyone after Shaun Alexander that has made any real noise in the NFL lately. Heisman winner Mark Ingram isn't exactly blowing anyone's mind in New Orleans these days and Lacy in Green Bay shows signs of being a huge disappointment. iJS.

Chief Wahoo
Chief Wahoo

Doug - your attempt at humor about the lake was lame. There was a fire on the Cuyahoga river about 50 years ago but idiots like you keep slamming Cleveland. Get your facts straight and try and be more objective in your commentary.

Easeness
Easeness

Of course, had the Browns taken a shot on Wilson before the Seahawks took him 75th overall, we’d be telling a very different story now — but that could be said of quite a few franchises."

This kind of thinking is so bogus!!  Wilson is a great talent but he also benefited from great talent around him and a system built around his skillset. Who knows if he'd have been as successful in Cleveland if those two things hadn't been in place??

bobinpowell
bobinpowell

Fire to the same old lake?  What does that mean, Dougie?

OK
OK

Jimmy Haslam's a criminal who's betting on John Boehner and the Koch Bros to keep him out of the federal pen.


Note: The Browns have had 18 different starting quarterbacks since their return to the NFL in 1999. Brian Hoyer will be No. 19.

GregSamick
GregSamick

“Trent’s a great player and we expect him to have success in this league,” Banner said on Wednesday. “Right now, based on how we’re building this team for sustainable success, we’re going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team that consistently wins.”


Really????  And you measure success by starting a 3rd string quarterback with 1 career start and 

sign a 32 year old running back who has been sitting at home watching games this year?

But, you won't admit how terrible your offensive line is? That couldn't possibly be the major problem.

More lame brain idiotic moves by the browns front office. There is a good possibility this team could go 0-16 this year. Few more great moves like this will guarantee it.

westcoastluker
westcoastluker

@BlueSheen by that logic, they probably should trade Joe Thomas for picks too, no sense in forcing him to donate pro-bowl seasons to a perennially non-competitive team.  Problem is the Browns can't be trusted with draft picks - we probably just traded Trent Richardson for the latest version of Tim Couch (or Tommy Vardell)

Jerkzilla
Jerkzilla

@LeeStover Thomas is locked up long term.  They have 2 years to start winning or Haden will be gone.

riley8
riley8

@LeeStover Never give up on your guys.  I followed the Saints for decades before they could win 8 games in a season.  Your guys are your guys no matter how many idiotic moves they make.  Just hope against all hope they turn this draft pick into something amazing.  The Browns are due.  It's a matter of when, not if.

Kristian
Kristian

@TeeHolmes Considering Cleveland and their track record for all things football, I think this is more of an indictment on the Browns. 

Kristian
Kristian

@Chief Wahoo I'm sorry that the Browns suck, that your management is inept, that your owner is a two-bit thief and that the Cuyahoga caught on fire. 

cincypaul
cincypaul

@Chief Wahoo He does have his facts straight- the Cuyahoga did catch fire, does not matter  how long ago.  Also, there is no statute of limitations on bringing up WATER catching fire.  Sorry about your luck.

westcoastluker
westcoastluker

@Easeness for sure Wilson wouldn't have had near the success in Cleveland - you correctly point out that the coaching staff was willing to design a scheme that fit his skills, something that Chud/Norv apparently aren't willing to do regarding TR.  It's a shame, I hope they handle their own draft picks better than the deal with inherited ones.

westcoastluker
westcoastluker

@riley8 @LeeStover wish i could share your optimism, Lee.  Hey, I'll always be a Browns fan, but the last championship for this team was 3 years before the Saints even existed, and this latest move practically guarantees we don't see 8 wins (maybe even combined!) until 2016.

Chief Wahoo
Chief Wahoo

Read the story' he said the lake caught fire. Too bad you don't know the difference between a lake and a river.

westcoastluker
westcoastluker

@Kristian @Jerkzilla @LeeStover no kidding, I can see the excuses lining up as quickly as fans to the exits....

2014 - "we're a team of rookies"

2015 - "sophomore slump" (trade half of the '14 draftees)

2016 - (trade other half of the '14 draftees for picks in '16) "we're looking to the future"

as a lifelong Browns fan, we all know the future never gets here...ahh well, at least the Tribe is competitive this year.

cincypaul
cincypaul

@Chief Wahoo Lake, river, swamp, ocean, whatever.  It's still water catching on fire regardless of the technical term.  What does the fire department use in Cleveland?  Wood?