Reaction to the Blockbuster Trent Richardson Trade

Next stop: Indy..

Late last night the Cleveland Browns sent their star running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for their first round pick in next April’s college player draft. Richardson himself was the third overall pick in 2012, two spots below his new teammate and Quarterback Andrew Luck.

The move is surprising and spectacular in equal measure for a number of reasons. Firstly, trades during the season are normally limited to fringe players and late round picks. These trades themselves are rare enough so to see an elite talent like Richardson change scenery is, in one word, shocking. Another reason the trade caught everyone off guard is the talent level involved. Players do get traded for first round picks, albeit infrequently, but usually these moves are a stretch made by Quarterback needy teams. Defensive end Jared Allen is one exception (he moved from Kansas City to Minnesota for a first, second and third round pick in 2008), with Darrell Revis this past off-season another. However while both of those players are elite (or were elite at the time of the trade) both were veteran players in the league, not sophomores like Richardson. Andy Reid is famous for swindling opposing coaches when trading his back-up QB’s for draft picks, but even though he managed to get second round picks for both A.J Feeley and Kevin Kolb he never netted that elusive first rounder (note that both trades were also made during the off-season).

The final reason the swap is unusual is that by making this move the Browns have, in effect, given up on the 2013 season after just two games. It’s a gutsy move and one that won’t be popular with the majority of the Cleveland fan base, but I can see the reasoning behind the decision. With a new owner (Jimmy Haslam) and CEO (Joe Banner) in place the move helps the new regime break farther away from the old one and the acquired draft pick could should be used to draft Quarterback Brandon Weeden’s replacement next April. After an 0-2 start making the play-offs in 2013 is highly unlikely despite the AFC north’s lack of top tier teams, and running back has increasingly become a position that can be addressed in the later rounds of the draft. The trade actually more closely resembles a baseball trade than a football one by nature. In baseball, teams that are out of contention come the trade deadline often look to deal sought after veterans for minor league prospects who can help the team down the line. While the Colts didn’t receive a prospect as such in the deal they did obtain a high draft pick which in all probability will be turned into a vital piece of their teams future.

From the Colts side of the deal the move reflects a ‘win now’ attitude as Indy looks to build on their play-off appearance last season. Even though Richardson is in just his second year in the league and is only 23 it’s worth remembering that running backs have a notoriously short career expectancy in the NFL. Ten years of high end production from Richardson is very unlikely. This is where a trade for a RB differs from one for a QB; you expect the latter to produce at a high level (health permitting) until his mid-thirties as opposed to mid-to-late twenties. For the trade to be a success the Colts need Richardson to produce right away.

But what about Richardson himself? Is he worthy of the lofty price tag that was paid for him? I’m not so sure. His statistics in the league thus far during his career are underwhelming: in 17 games he has 1,055 yards at 3.5 yards per carry along with 11 rushing touchdowns. He has, admittedly, been playing for a team with a poor offensive line and an even poorer Quarterback. Yet try telling that to Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles, who have both thrived in less that ideal offensive situations. Richardson was a great college back and has fantastic potential; but the pressure is definitely on for him to deliver immediate results if he’s to live up to expectations in his new city.

I firmly believe that trades, much like the draft, cannot be truly evaluated until at least two years down the line. Often trades that initially look like masterstrokes turn out to be a disaster. Maybe the Browns draft the leagues next star QB with the Colts first round pick. Maybe Richardson helps lead Indianapolis to a deep play-off run this season. However without the benefit of hindsight this trade can’t yet be judged one way or the other, and it’ll be a while before we have answers to the questions this deal has posed.

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