You’re Wrong, Peter: It’s a Clear Browns Win
A SECOND OPINION, BY ROBERT KLEMKO
It was the only move.
If you’re Browns president Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi, you weren’t around when the team drafted a running back with the third overall selection a year ago, but you were willing to give the kid a chance. You found out quickly that this was not the kind of running back who creates extra yards when there are none to be had. You had a solid, somewhat dependable running back—a guy with a history of ankle injuries and a knee that needed to be scoped the summer he was signed—a guy who told me three weeks ago that he sometimes thinks about making the safe play and preserving his health and longevity by going down or scooting out of bounds, but then he wants “that one extra inch.”
Andre Johnson was a No. 3 pick. So were Larry Fitzgerald and Matt Ryan. You were hoping he’d show the potential to be as good as them, or maybe a transcendent talent, an Adrian Peterson. The kind of player who makes it justifiable to draft a running back in the top 10 in a league ever-trending toward the passing game.
But Richardson wasn’t that. He gained 950 yards on a measly 3.6 yards per attempt as a rookie. He could catch, sure, but he struggled in pass protection, and his work ethic, well, it wasn’t Petersonesque. So you were willing to trade him; to cut your losses and move on. And then somebody (the Colts) offered a first-round pick for him. It’s not throwing in the towel on the season to take the deal. It’s an affirmation of what we already know: Quarterback play and defense win games in the NFL, not running backs who miss cutback lanes and do just enough to chalk up 60 yards on Sunday.
It was the only move for the Browns, and it should have never come to this.
Take a look at the top five rushers in the NFL last season after Peterson, who was drafted seventh overall because of durability concerns coming out of Oklahoma. (Ha!). They were Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin and Arian Foster, drafted, respectively, in rounds 6, 1, 3, 1 and not at all. Morris was considered too slow, Charles too weak, and Foster flat out no good. Discounting the extremes (Peterson and Foster), the top six NFL backs in 2012 were chosen, on average, 72nd overall. So you know you can find a capable rusher in the later rounds. First you need a quarterback and a franchise tackle and an edge rusher.
Now you can make amends for a franchise’s failings. At your disposal: two first-round picks in 2014 and 10 overall selections. You have the ammunition to deal for the No. 1 overall selection to snag Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater and not suffer in the later rounds. Or you have the luxury of choosing with your first selection a sure thing like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and waiting until the mid- to late first round for a quarterback in a class bulging with them (A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd, Braxton Miller). Or you can select a quarterback with your top-five pick and take a pass-catcher with the second choice.
Better that than finishing just better than Jacksonville, trading everything for the right to draft Bridgewater at No. 1, and surrounding him with nothing but an injury-prone running back, a mediocre offensive line and an inexperienced receiving corps. Now you have options, unlike the Colts, who have bet their immediate future on a guy you weren’t sure about—a running back built for power in a league yielding to finesse.
Maybe Richardson works out for Indianapolis. Maybe the Colts run power successfully as a means of protecting franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, and maybe Richardson benefits from having a bona fide passer in the backfield as opposed to Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell or Brian Hoyer. Or maybe they regret it when Richardson isn’t the back they envisioned and Reggie Wayne retires and they could have used that No. 1 pick on Luck’s next great wide receiver.
But if you’re the Browns, you cut your losses and put your priorities and your money in the right place—the passing game—when rebuilding a football team. You win, regardless. —R.K.