By Steve Silverman
The Cleveland Browns made front-page news this week when they traded 2012 first-round draft pick Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a mid- to late-first-round draft pick next spring.
On the outside, it looks like the Browns are going into an immediate rebuilding mode and simply want to rebuild for the future.
It is something that all fans of a certain North Side Chicago baseball club are only too familiar with. The Cubs have endured two miserable seasons since Theo Epstein came aboard because they are attempting to put together a consistent, contending team by doing it the “right way.”
Many of the most knowledgeable baseball executives believe that building through the draft and the minor leagues is the only way to build a consistent, winning team that produces year after year.
It’s painful in the short term, but the model being followed by Epstein is supposed to provide long-term results. The proof will come over the next 10 to 15 years once the Cubs turn the corner. If the Cubs turn the corner.
But the Cleveland Browns don’t play in the National League Central. They play in the AFC North, and they don’t play baseball. They play in the NFL.
Richardson is almost certainly the Browns’ best offensive player. With quarterback Brandon Weeden sidelined with a thumb injury, they are more dependent on their running game than ever.
However, the trade of Richardson means they are sacrificing any legitimate chance of having a winning season and building for the future. They are making this judgment not after six games or the halfway point of the season. They did this after two games.
Cleveland general manager Joe Banner has made an unpopular choice by trading Richardson, who was the third pick in the 2012 draft.
But he may have made the right move long-term for his franchise. More importantly, Banner may have created a new avenue for other NFL executives to follow.
Until this trade, the idea of sacrificing a season was not on the list of available choices in the NFL. For one thing, the league is normally so wide open that even the worst teams are capable of turnarounds.
Look at the Kansas City Chiefs and their 3-0 start. This was a 2-14 team a year ago. They had much better personnel in 2012 than their record indicated and then added a new coach in Andy Reid and a solid quarterback in Alex Smith.
The Chiefs could not do anything to end their misery while the 2012 season played out, but they are in the process of turning things around.
That’s what Banner is thinking. He knows that Weeden may be a solid-effort quarterback who has shown some improvement since the start of the 2012 season, but that his future is limited. He believes that with Weeden on the sidelines – even if it’s just for a short time – the Browns offense is not capable of a decent passing attack.
As talented as Richardson is, he is not Adrian Peterson of the Vikings and he may not be as good as Houston’s Arian Foster, either.
A good-but-not-great running back is not good enough in today’s NFL. If you can’t go up and down the field with the passing game, you aren’t going to win.
So Banner made a tough choice. The Browns will have Brian Hoyer at quarterback and Willis McGahee running the ball. No matter how the Browns try to paint it, Hoyer and McGahee are caretakers.
The Browns are looking at the 2014 season and beyond. They need to use the draft to bring in a new quarterback and other talented players. They are accumulating draft picks to do it.
They are breaking new ground because teams have never traveled this route before. The Los Angeles Rams traded Eric Dickerson to the Indianapolis Colts in a three-team deal in 1987 that also included the Buffalo Bills. However, that trade was forced by Dickerson because he was in a contract dispute with the Rams.
Richardson had no such problem with the Browns. This is unprecedented territory, and one that may have far-reaching ramifications around the NFL for years to come.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.