Six years ago the Cleveland Browns shocked their fans by trading former first-round running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick. It caused fear, panic, celebration, and everything in between in Cleveland and around the NFL. Many national NFL media members thought the deal was a win-win for both teams. The Browns were 0-2 and none of the Holmgren-era leadership that was there when Richardson walked across that Draft Day stage remained in the Joe Banner-led organization. Still, the deal pissed me off back when it happened, and even as Richardson’s career cratered, the stink of that deal lingered in the Browns organization for years.
Full disclosure is that we’ve been talking about this behind the scenes at WFNY today. Many of my friends there think I’m crazy and maybe donning a tinfoil hat. That’s alright. I can deal with it. I know that in the end, in a vacuum, it made sense to make that deal. Considering the fallout and how it all played out, I can’t help but think it might not have been worth all the trouble just for the Colts’ first-round pick.
I think the trade of Trent Richardson was a catalyst for Rob Chudzinski getting fired after just one season. Reminder, he was fired less than a calendar year into his deal with the Browns. At the time, Tony Grossi reported that the Browns’ coaching staff rebelled against the front office at the time of the agreement because it blindsided the coaching staff after just two games in the 2013 season. The team acquired Willis McGahee off the street to join Chris Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whitaker and Edwin Baker as Browns running backs that season.
As most of us know, it’s not always what you do, but how you do it. The Browns brass didn’t get buy-in from the coaching staff. They shocked them. Trent Richardson was shocked as well, revealing to Mark Schwab of Cleveland 19 that he found out from a text from a friend before confirming it by turning on the radio. It’s the NFL, and in the business of sports, sometimes guys are traded. It’s not best practice to have the players find out that they’ve been dealt on their own via a third party and in the media.
Is it any wonder that Chudzinski, Norv Turner, and Ray Horton felt abandoned by the front office? They had a quarterback room of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer. The Browns draft consisted of Barkevious Mingo, Leon McFadden, and a draft-day trade for future AWOL receiver Davone Bess. And this is an experienced, well-regarded coaching staff that ended up being fired for failing to make significant improvements during the course of the season.
In a vacuum you still trade Trent Richardson for a first-round pick, especially knowing how Richardson’s career worked out. Outside the vacuum, the way it all went down produced a fired Chudzinski, a fired Banner, and Lombardi. An elevated Ray Farmer, who would eventually use the proceeds from that trade to select Johnny Manziel. This isn’t me doing any sort of victory lap either, because nobody was happier with the Manziel selection than I was. I’m never going to try and tell you I’m smart enough to do the job or that I have enough information to be better at it from my position on the outside looking in.
I will say that there’s a universe where the Browns don’t make that trade and are better off holding onto a failing first-round running back than going through all the shenanigans that occurred after that trade was made. I don’t know if Chudzinski gets a second year at the helm of the Browns if they play the rest of the season with Trent Richardson. I don’t know how Richardson’s career works out if he isn’t traded, although being traded was at least part of his downfall, if you believe him. He struggled with a team giving up on him, while he also struggled with the lack of structure and the demands of NFL hangers-on asking for money.
It’s just hard to say that the trade worked out for the Browns as everyone got fired and the Browns went through another era of disgusting football with nothing to show for the trade that everyone is so quick to label as brilliant.
Anyway, happy anniversary to the T-Rich trade to the Colts I guess.