This is close. The Colts didn’t win the Trent Richardson trade in a slam dunk by dealing a 2014 first-round draft choice for him, and the Browns didn’t cream the Colts in the deal. It’s … well, complicated.
A word about the Browns first. On draft day 2012 they traded up one spot in the first round to draft Richardson, the Alabama running back, third overall. To make the move, Cleveland gave the Vikings first-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks. Richardson played 17 games for the Browns and, at 23, was traded to Indianapolis for a first-round pick in 2014. So, this back who was worth four picks and got chosen near the top of the 2012 draft—and who isn’t hurt—suddenly is worth a pick likely somewhere in the middle of the 2014 first round. Amazing how much the new regime in Cleveland has devalued Richardson in the span of a year. Plus, how does a team tell its players with 14 games left in the season that they’re playing for 2014? I’ve heard of teams throwing in the towel in mid-November. Mid-September? Unheard of. But the Browns have now stockpiled high picks (seven in the first four rounds next May) to be in position to pick a top quarterback, so it’s understandable from their point of view.
But I think the Colts got the better of the deal. They’ve fortified a need position on a playoff contender with a player who is better than he’s played in his 17 NFL games. When you have Andrew Luck, every year is a year to contend deep into January. New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton wants to be able to use a power running game, and the Colts lost their top back, Vick Ballard, to an ACL tear last week.
Lots of good teams have gaping needs right now. How many actually risk this much to do something about it?
“I know the risk,” GM Ryan Grigson told me late Wednesday night. “I watched every game [Richardson] played for Cleveland. Believe me, I know the numbers—3.5 yards a carry, long [run] of 32—but I also know in this business you can go by the norm, and you can go by the eye test. What do your eyes tell you? They tell me he’s special. He’s a 4.48-second 40 guy who defenders don’t want to tackle. I loved this kid coming out. He’s only 23 years old, and I still think he’s a great back.’’
Grigson would do this. John Schneider, in Seattle, would do this. Thomas Dimitroff, in Atlanta, would do this. Not many other GMs would. Maybe none. There’s no insurance for moves like this, but I believe Grigson will be proven right. He trusts his ability as a scout to make up for the loss of a first-round pick—particularly when he gets a young, salary-controlled, above-average starter at a big need position for $6.65 million for the next three seasons.
I want my general manager to have the courage of his convictions to make a deal like this one. I want my coach to know he’s got a GM who’s not going to wait until draft day to fix a big problem. I want my players to think, “The front office is doing everything it can do to win now.” And that’s the case in Indianapolis now. How do you think Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne, who might be in their last season or two, feel about their team this morning? Pretty good, I bet.
Running backs have become devalued in the last few years, with good reason. You can find good ones down the line and as undrafted free agents. Trent Richardson has been just a guy for Cleveland. Had he been great early as a Brown, CEO Joe Banner never would have traded him. But he hasn’t been great. Grigson’s eyes tell him Richardson can be great, and will be great in the right environment. That environment includes a quarterback, Luck, who will make sure defenses aren’t laser-focused on stopping Richardson, the way they were when teams played the Brandon Weeden-piloted Browns
Last year I remember hearing Mike Mayock call Richardson the best back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson in 2007. Seventeen games is not enough to judge Richardson a washout. The Colts did the right thing, because when Luck is the quarterback, the future is always now.