The strange business of trading in the NFL.
The Browns abandoned the season—supposedly—by trading Trent Richardson after two weeks, flew to Minneapolis to play a 2012 playoff team, and won their first game of the season with a third-string quarterback starting.
The Colts traded a first-round pick for Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft. On Sunday, the 250th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Ahmad Bradshaw, was Indy’s best back, rushing 19 times for 95 yards in a 27-7 upset win at San Francisco.
My takeaways from this deal, and the future of the two teams:
Cleveland will be doomed to fail unless they get on a path and stick to it. In the six seasons since 2008, the Browns have had four different front-office regimes: Phil Savage as GM (2005-08), George Kokinis as GM (2009), Mike Holmgren as president and Tom Heckert as GM (2010-12), and Joe Banner as CEO and Mike Lombardi at GM (2013). That has led to the kind of schizophrenic decision-making that, if I was a Browns’ fan, would cause me to go crazy.
In 2011, the Heckert/Holmgren group traded the sixth pick in a very strong top of the first round (Von Miller, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Patrick Peterson, J.J. Watt) to Atlanta for two first-rounders, a second-rounder and two fourths. What they got in return:
2011 first: Defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a decent starter, who Cleveland had to deal up six spots to acquire. The tradeup cost Cleveland its third-round pick. Kansas City used that pick to select Justin Houston, who leads the NFL in sacks this morning.
2011 second: Wideout Greg Little, who has been a marginal starter.
2011 fourth: Fullback Owen Marecic, cut by the new regime in camp this summer.
2012 first: Quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is in the process of being replaced as the Cleveland quarterback.
2012 fourth: Used in the trade to move up to draft Trent Richardson.
Essentially, the bounty of picks the Browns received for the one the Falcons on Julio Jones resulted in one player likely to be an average to above-average starter: Phil Taylor, who plays about 60 percent of the defensive snaps. And it cost Cleveland the equivalent of Justin Houston to move up to get Taylor.
Now for the Richardson part of this. Cleveland had the fourth pick in 2012. The Browns tried hard to move up to pick Andrew Luck and failed. They could have traded down a bit and picked the third quarterback in the draft, Ryan Tannehill, but he wasn’t the apple of the front office’s eye. Though there was zero chance Minnesota would use the pick to take Richardson, and a very small chance the Vikes would trade down very far, Cleveland, to move up one spot in the draft, gave Minnesota fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks. Eighteen games into his Cleveland career, Richardson was traded for Indy’s first-rounder next year. Let’s say Indy lands where it did last year—in the wild-card round, giving the Browns the 24th pick in the 2014 first round. That’d mean Cleveland traded Richardson plus three picks for the right to move down 21 spots in a draft two years later.
This is what happens when regimes value players differently. The new Browns don’t want the power back that Richardson is; these Browns want a shiftier, faster back. The good thing about the dealing is that Cleveland has seven picks in the top four rounds next year, including two in the first round. But that’s not going to do any good if this new management group drafts poorly or if it sticks around for three years, gets fired, and another regime erases what this one began.
Moral of the story: Unless Banner and/or Lombardi stinks out loud, owner Jimmy Haslam has to keep them for five seasons. Build a team their way. Build a team in someone’s way, for crying out loud, and stick to it.
“Continuity is invaluable,’’ Banner said Saturday. “But continuity for its own sake is not the ultimate solution. I don’t want a free pass. If in three or four years we aren’t positioned to win … I should have to deal with the consequences.’’ I’m not sitting here lobbying for Banner and Lombardi to stay if they blow these picks. But any smart football person would tell you a draft can’t be judged for two years at least, and three more prudently.
Indianapolis is a different team in a different time.
Sunday’s game in San Francisco was a perfect illustration why GM Ryan Grigson made this deal. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton wants to be able to be a power running team. Not all the time, but when it suits his style. And watching the Colts grind out the win against what was supposed to be one of the best run defenses in football, you see why Richardson was important. The Colts entered the fourth quarter with a 13-7 lead. They ran the ball on 15 of 20 (non-penalized) snaps in the quarter. They held it for 10:51 of the 15-minute quarter. And they outscored the Niners 14-0 in the quarter. So what if it was more Ahmad Bradshaw than Richardson? The Colts will need both, in heavy doses, before the end of the season.
As of this morning, Indianapolis looks like the best team in the AFC South. Houston’s been struggling to match its level of consistency from its 12-4 2012 season. We could look back on the deal and say Indy overpaid, or Richardson wasn’t worth it. But the offense Hamilton’s going to run needs power. And Bradshaw and Richardson give the Colts two backs who can provide some power, and some ability to make defenders miss too.
A few highlights, and lowlights …
The Bengals and Packers played a game Steve Sabol would have loved. Green Bay scored 30 points in a row, and lost. Cincinnati blew a 14-point lead. Green Bay handed back a 16-point lead. Bengals: four turnovers. Packers: four turnovers. But the biggest play of the game might have been a replay challenge by the Bengals with 4:34 left in the game. Green Bay led 30-27. It was 3rd-and-12 at the Cincinnati 41. Rodgers threw to Randall Cobb, and the officials ruled he gained 12 yards and just barely got the first down. But the Bengals challenged, and won. It was 4th-and-1 at the 30. Eschewing a 47-yard field-goal try from the terminally unreliable Mason Crosby, Green Bay coach McCarthy chose to try to make the yard, and running back Johnathan Franklin fumbled. A Keystone Kops play ensued, and Terence Newman ran it in for the winning touchdown. But the replay was what mattered, I thought. “One of our young personnel guys upstairs saw it,’’ Marvin Lewis said from Cincinnati after the game. “So we challenged. It was close, but it turned out to be a good decision.’’ Lewis’ message—to his team and to the media and his fans—after the game was clear. He didn’t like how the Packers came to Cincinnati as the team with the perceived big edge in talent. “We’ve got great players here too. It’s so week to week in this league. You just never know. But we’ve got enough good players to play with anyone.’’
The Hoyer and Lanning show. Spencer Lanning never played a game of football until his junior year in high school. He was a soccer player until he tore an ACL playing the game. Then he decided to kick a football, and punt one, and pass one. He went on to kick and punt at South Carolina, and throw a football around like any other player having fun before practice. On Sunday, he did all of them, the first time in 45 years an NFL player threw a pass, punted and place-kicked in the same game. The pass was the gem—an 11-yard touchdown thrown from field-goal formation to tight end Jordan Cameron in the second quarter. “All I could hear at the end of our series was, ‘Get off the field! Hurry up!’ ‘’ Hoyer said from Minneapolis. “I’m ticked off, because I really wanted to score down there. I had no idea what we were doing.” Cameron jogged off—but never got all the way to the sidelines. He lingered near the white sideline stripe, Minnesota never noticed him, and as soon as Lanning got the snap, he rose and threw a perfect pass to Cameron, who ran it in. “I just didn’t want to be that guy who overthrows an open receiver and throws it into the stands,’’ Lanning said from Minneapolis. “If you’d ever told me I’d throw a touchdown pass in an NFL game, I would have never believed you.” You did it, kid. You’ve got something in common with Brady and Manning. You’ve thrown an NFL touchdown pass.
The Steelers and Giants shouldn’t be shocked to be 0-3. They can’t block. They can’t protect their Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, the Giants especially. It’s been 10 seasons since these two teams picked in the top 10 of a draft—coincidentally, the year they got Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger—and both are on the way to that ignominious placement in 2014.
David Shaw’s NFL future, briefly.
A 34-second discussion with highly respected Stanford head coach David Shaw, about his NFL desires:
Me: “You tempted by the NFL?”
Shaw: “Maybe somewhere way down the road. I said no to all the interviews last year. I got called by a bunch of teams. I love where we’re at right now, I love this team. This team we have, it’s going to be good for a while.”
Me: “No guarantees in the NFL. The grass isn’t always greener.”
Shaw: “When teams reached out to me last year, I said, ‘Okay, you tell me which NFL city is better than Palo Alto. And then explain that to my wife.’ ‘’