Earlier this week, the Cleveland Browns shocked the NFL football world by trading their best offensive player. Many said that the Browns have given up and are tanking for the No. 1 pick, which may be true, but all in all, this was the right move for the organization. Fans and pundits are still scratching their head about the trade, but I think the Browns are the real winner here. Let’s look at the ways that this trade makes sense:
Running Backs are not as valuable as they used to be.
I think this sentence rings true, save one guy. Much like drafting in fantasy this year: there was Adrian Peterson and there was everyone else. Running backs come and go. They come on the scene and are gone before you know it. Remember LenDale White? Mike Anderson? Rudy Johnson? Getting a first round pick from the Indianapolis Colts is a great haul. How many running backs out there would teams be willing to give up their first round pick for? In the end, I think the Browns actually took advantage of the Colts.
The Colts believe they are one player away (the performances in the first two games would suggest otherwise) and saw that in Richardson; a player who eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in his 16th career game. By the way, if you think the Colts offensive line is going to transform him into Adrian Peterson, then watch their first two games of this season.
A first round draft pick is much more valuable than a running back that average less than 4 yards per carry. Sure, Richardson has a lot of promise, but the first round pick can bring back a lot more. The Browns are deficient in two key offensive areas: quarterback and offensive line. Oniel Cousins starts on the Browns offensive line. ONIEL COUSINS!!! Where would one find young quarterbacks and offensive linemen? The first round of the NFL Draft.
Mike Lombardi and the rest of the new Browns regime have recognized that Brandon Weeden is not the answer to their quarterback prayers. He doesn’t do anything in the game at a serviceable level, much less an elite level. The speed of the game seems to be too much for him at this point. Joe Flacco suffered from this early in his career, but he is an elite throwing talent – something that Weeden is not. The Browns are going to rebuild their offense and do it for real this time. The last time they tried to build around a running back and then a quarterback, this time let’s hope they do it the other way around.
You might ask: if it was about Weeden, why didn’t they trade him? Well, Brandon Weeden wouldn’t command anything higher than a mid-round draft pick, if that. The Browns are going to start over, but they are going to do it with the quarterback they tried to start over with two years ago, so it’s a little awkward. Hey, maybe with some magic and a little overdue luck for the Cleveland sports fans, Brandon Weeden might turn into an NFL quarterback.
This is not to say that the Browns need to turn the Colts 1st rounder into the next great franchise quarterback, but they need more NFL football players. By my count, they currently have 3 on offense: Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon, and Jordan Cameron. You need somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 or 10 to be competitive. It is hard to hide 8 positions and it shows.
When is the last time an elite running back and defense carried their team to a Super Bowl victory?
Maybe the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Still, that playoff run included a game where the Ravens needed a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and a play where Eddie George cowered in fear as Ray Lewis took the ball from him. These are not every day occurrences. The Browns have a good young defense and I think they will be around when the offense becomes a competitive unit. I think the Browns recognized that Trent Richardson had some value and wasn’t going to carry him to the playoffs by himself. So, they traded him.
Just look around the league, every other "elite" running back is not doing it alone. Arian Foster has Andre Johnson (and Ben Tate), LeSean McCoy has Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson, and Doug Martin has Vincent Jackson. These guys are not all future hall of famers, but they are certainly going to draw some attention from opposing defenses. This season, it was just Trent Richardson. He didn’t even have an offensive line that could help him out.
Finally, being mediocre in professional sports is the worst place you can possibly be.
Keeping Richardson on the team to possibly make the Pro Bowl and win 4-6 games is similar to how the Milwaukee Bucks operate every offseason. Their owner has said publically that they are fine with basically being mediocre. They try and get the 8th seed every year, just so they can have the two extra playoff home games. The idea in professional sports is to contend or be terrible so that you can rebuild and later contend.
Being in mediocre in the NFL is like being in the Friend Zone. It’s alright when you hang out with her, but you know you are not going to get what you want. In the end, it might have just been better to cut your losses, delete her phone number and go back to the drawing board because the current arrangement is not going to land you the Lombardi Trophy.
Getting rid of Trent Richardson is another step on the road to terribleness, which can merge with a road to greatness. The casual and irrational fan will be irate with this trade because irrational fans have irrational expectations. The educated fan will understand that this is necessary to move forward.
Some might say that you need to endure some mediocre seasons to reach the mountain top, but the Browns are not getting any better. Brandon Weeden has played a full season of games and nothing tells me that he has the mental or physical tools to be an NFL quarterback. They are also set at only one of the five offensive line positions. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch the Dolphins game. The Dolphins defensive line looked like they were playing against a tackling sled.
The Browns need to adopt the San Francisco 49ers model. Use your draft picks to get elite offensive linemen and a quarterback. The Browns have a defense that can compete, but their offense is a long way from being respectable. They now have two first round draft picks in the 2014 draft, I suggest they use them to improve their offensive line. The 49ers have proven that drafting linemen high can drastically improve your football team and quickly. Having a great offensive line can improve even the worst quarterbacks.
In closing, I give the Cleveland front office a lot of credit. A lot of GMs would be scared to make a move like this, especially on the Wednesday of Week 3 of their first season with the team. This was basically the most aggressive, WE ARE REBUILDING signal a GM has ever put out.
They basically just traded their best asset in a season where they are already 0-2. This is a league where you can get better quickly, and the 2012 draft clearly halted that for the Browns. From a Baltimore Ravens standpoint, this is a great trade. A division opponent is worse than they were before the trade. With a few good drafts though, the Browns and their defense could be a force to be reckoned with in the very near future.