Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Impact of Trent Richardson's Trade

I've been in the city of Cleveland once in my life.  I was there about ten years ago (maybe more?) to try out for the Kids version of Jeopardy (No, I didn't make it to the show).  Living near Chicago, I had assumed that all urban areas were big, booming cities with upbeat people.  Then, I went to Cleveland.  The people seemed like there was nothing to be excited about.  Let's be honest, there wasn't.  The Indians hadn't won a World Series since 1948.  The Cavs were among the worst teams in the NBA and had never won a title, or even been to the NBA Finals.  The Browns had just come back into town, but there was nothing special about this Browns team (The old one that moved to Baltimore had already won a Super Bowl).  They did make the playoffs in 2002, but didn't make any noise once getting there.

Then came the 2003 NBA Draft.  The city of Cleveland seemed to come alive as their hometown hero, LeBron James, was taken 1st overall by the Cavs and immediately became the face of the franchise.  Between the years of 2005 and 2010, the Cavs made the playoffs every year, won two division titles, and reached the NBA Finals once (in 2009, where they were swept by San Antonio).  Then came "The Decision".  LeBron seemed to be tired of actually having to compete to win titles, so he left his home town for fun in the sun, and has won two titles in three years, and has actually reached the NBA Finals all three seasons in Miami.  The Cavs have not reached the playoffs since LeBron left.

The Indians may be the best sports franchise in Cleveland.  As bad as they had been since winning their last title 65 years ago, the Indians have 7 division titles over the last 18 years and have two AL pennants.  In fact, the Indians seem to be headed to the playoffs this season as a Wild Card, as the Texas Rangers continue to struggle near the end of the season (again).  The Indians still can't hold a true superstar, and that may be the problem that has held them out of contention since 1948.  Cleveland is still a small-market team, and in a sport with no salary cap, the Indians may continue to lose stars in the future.

Now, on to the Browns.  The Browns may be one of the worst professional sports franchises of all time.  They have not had relevant success in the NFL since the Stone Age, and have continued to make bad decisions with their team.  The 2012 NFL Draft seemed to be the lone bright spot for the struggling Browns, as they made a move to trade up for Trent Richardson, a running back out of Alabama that may have contended for the Heisman if it wasn't for Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

Everyone seems to focus on the top 2 picks when referring to the 2012 draft, and those guys are deserving of the recognition.  Andrew Luck took the Colts, a 2 win team a season before, to an 11-5 record and a Wild Card bid to the post-season.  The Colts seem to have their QB of the future in Luck, and are set up for continued success as long as Luck stays healthy.  The Redskins traded away the Capitol building to acquire the second pick, with which they took RGIII.  The 'Skins won the NFC East in the '12-'13 season, but with RGIII's health uncertain, it may be another year (at least) before they see the post-season again.

Back to Trent Richardson.  The Browns missed out on the top 2 quarterbacks, the only guys at the time who seemed to be the "QB of the Future" type players.  Their logical choice was to take the best fit on the board, which was easily Trent Richardson. Running backs usually have more success than do QBs early on in their careers, because the transition from the college game to the pros is much easier for a runner than for a passer.  In fact, Richardson rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and put up 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2012, despite being hampered by injuries all season.  He became the Browns best player in just one season and Cleveland (for once) seemed to be headed in the right direction.

The Browns have not had a steady quarterback in recent memory.  That made this season Brandon Weeden's chance to show he could be the guy to lead the offense.  If he fails, the Browns will likely move in a different direction at QB.  The Browns seem to have an increased focus on the passing game, which does not play to their strengths at all.  Stevie Wonder could see that Brandon Weeden is not a game-changing QB like any of the young "QB of the Future" players out there (Luck, RGIII, Wilson, Kaepernick, Newton), but the Browns seem to be determined to show that he is and prove they didn't waste a first round pick on him.  Hint: they did.

I do agree that the Browns need to make a change at QB, but what they need more is a change in style.  I could have seen them being very successful running a Houston Texans type offense, with the run game and clock control being the focus.  They could have used their stud running back to set up the play action game and use their tight end Jordan Cameron (who now becomes their best offensive weapon) to keep teams honest in the passing game.  It wouldn't have been perfect, but with a QB like Weeden, the goal has to become minimizing risk, and handing the ball to Richardson would have been the best way to do that.

If you take a look at the teams that succeeded with young players last year, you notice one thing.  Coaches changed their plans to adapt to the strengths of their best players.  The game used to force players to adjust to new systems, but now, the best teams know that if they want to succeed, they have to change their plans as well.  The Browns seemed unwilling to do that, and that is why they chose to trade their best player.  They want to see how Brandon Weeden (or whoever is at QB now) can do running the show, and they obviously want to go in a different direction for the future.

The trade of Trent Richardson to the Colts forces Cleveland to take a QB in the first round next year (or a running back if Weeden or Hoyer magically become able to play QB). They will likely have a top 10 pick (their own), and a pick somewhere in between 20-25 (from Indy).   Now, it is possible that they could use their two picks as trade bait to a team that has a pick above them, but there are plenty of poor teams that need a QB right now and are willing to trade away their future in hopes of landing the next Andrew Luck or RGIII.

The Colts become a playoff team this year in my book, knocking the Ravens out of the picture and grabbing the sixth and final spot in the AFC.  I still don't see them being good enough to beat Houston for the division title.  The Colts still have some work to do on defense, but their offense seems to be set for a long and dominant run as one of the best in the league.  They likely will miss the chance to take an offensive lineman or pass rusher in next year's draft, but there is always free agency for that.

In the end, the Colts are the clear winner of this trade.  They end of getting two of the top three guys from the 2012 NFL Draft, and only had to give up a late first round pick in next year's draft to do so. It is possible that we could look back at this trade in a few years and see that the Browns didn't do too poorly in this deal, but it's unlikely.  Unless their staff can realize they need to make changes to fit their players, rather than forcing players to fit the system, the Browns, will continue to struggle.

The Browns success may come one day, but until then, it leaves the city hoping that Terry Francona can save the city of Cleveland like he did with Boston.  Or maybe, just maybe, will the city's hometown superstar come back to try and end the suffering of America's worst sports city?  LeBron James is set to be a free agent next summer.