The news sent shockwaves through the football world last week: the Browns traded Trent Richardson, the running back they’d just selected with the No. 3 pick in the draft last year (albeit with different people running the show) to the Colts for a first round pick in next year’s draft. Immediately, reactions poured in from everywhere: some said the Browns are tanking. Others said The Colts are all-in, Super Bowl or bust. No, wait - maybe the Colts shouldn’t have done it, and the deal made perfect sense for Cleveland. Of course, evaluating trades’ winners and losers mere days after they happen is ultimately fruitless… but that didn’t stop anyone from trying. So it won’t stop us, either, from both evaluating the trade and measuring Richardson’s performance today, and comparing it to the Browns’ newly Trent-less running game. You can perform your own analysis too, using NFL Game Rewind, which lets you relive every NFL game online in HD whether you’re on your computer or your tablet device. Read on below, don’t miss a moment, and enter the promo code BLS15.. between September 24 and September 30 for 15% off NFL Game Rewind.
So who did get the best haul in the deal, anyway? Hey, as long as everyone else weighed in, we might as well too. The Colts needed backfield help after Vick Ballard went down for the season, and Richardson is undoubtedly a talented back. He compiled monster numbers at Alabama (and this rookie highlight reel) for a reason. Richardson is a tight, compact 225-pound ball of pure power, and no one averages nearly six yards per carry over their college career – or returns a kick for a touchdown, as Richardson did when he was a sophomore – if they don’t have any explosiveness.
But Richardson’s also averaging a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry over his (admittedly brief) career to date. No, his supporting cast in Cleveland probably wasn’t doing him any favors, and he hasn’t been bad - he just hasn’t been “No. 3 pick in the draft” good. The fact that the Browns got a first rounder for him in a league less reliant on running backs than it used to be is an impressive piece of work by the team’s front office. On the other hand, it’s a lot for the Colts to give up. Richardson has the talent to be worth a first rounder – especially if Richardson helps the Colts make the playoffs this year, pushing their pick down the board – but he’ll have to show more than he has in the NFL to date.
Edge: Browns. How good was Richardson during his short time in Cleveland? You can rewatch all his past performances and decide for yourself, with the help of NFL Game Rewind’s archive feature.
Which team fared better today? It was a good afternoon for both participants in the deal – the Browns earned their first win of 2013, scoring a wild 31-27 victory over the Vikings in Minnesota, while Richardson and the Colts moved to 2-1 with a surprisingly dominant 27-7 win over the 49ers in San Francisco. But what we really want to figure out from a trade perspective is: in the short term, did Richardson’s presence help the Colts more than his absence hurt the Browns? On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it: Richardson struggled to get much going: he finished with 35 yards on 13 carries. (He did, though, score an early touchdown, and you can use NFL Game Rewind’s Big Play Markers to relive Richardson’s first TD as a Colt.)
Meanwhile, the Browns gained 103 yards on the ground on just 17 rushes, an average of six per carry. But how the Browns gained those yards tells a different story. 34 of them came on a fake punt executed by rookie defensive back Josh Aubrey – and that total was enough to make him the Browns’ leading rusher on the day. 22 more came on an end around run by Josh Gordon. As for Willis McGahee, the man the Browns signed to bolster their backfield once they traded Richardson away? Eight carries, nine yards. Instead, the Browns relied heavily on quarterback Brian Hoyer, who threw 54 times. (Miss the game and pressed for time? You can relive it in about 30 minutes with NFL Game Rewind’s Condensed Games feature.)
While that pass-and-trickery-heavy strategy was (barely) enough Sunday, though, it’s hard to imagine that working over a full season. The Colts, on the other hand, now have a talented one-two punch at running back in Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw (who actually fared better today, with 95 yards on 19 carries), plus Andrew Luck leading the passing attack. And don’t be too quick to write off Richardson after his struggles today: the 49ers still have a high-level defense. The Colts, thanks in part to what Richardson brings them, has an offense that’s good enough to get the better of even some of the NFL’s top defenses. The Browns can still only hope that the draft pick Richardson netted them helps them assemble such a team down the line.
Edge: Colts. Use NFL Game Rewind’s coaches film feature, which presents the action from exclusive camera angles, for an in-depth breakdown of the Colts’ and Browns’ new-look offenses.
Overall: This is a complicated trade to break down, from a big picture standpoint. Which team is in a better position to contend both now and in the future, after this trade? That’s the Colts. Richardson should give their ground game a boost for years to come, and with both him and Luck in the fold, Indy’s sitting pretty over the long haul. And while the Browns gained a valuable rebuilding asset in exchange for Richardson…well, Richardson was supposed to be a valuable rebuilding asset himself. The Browns really, really cannot afford to whiff on the pick Richardson netted them, or else the franchise’s latest rebuilding effort stands a good chance of achieving as little as all the previous ones.
However, the fact that the Browns are in so deep a hole can’t be blamed on the current front office. The current front office didn’t pick Richardson No. 3 overall – and that pick was probably a mistake in today’s NFL, where the passing game rules all. Richardson may well turn into a very good player, but he wasn’t shaping up as the franchise cornerstone the Browns needed him to be to justify taking him that high in the draft. Based on his level of production so far in the NFL, a mid-to-late first rounder is more valuable than what he was providing the Browns. It’s up to Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi & Co. to make it work from here, but given how far the Browns still have to go to become a good team, a first-round pick was an offer too good to pass up.
Slight edge: Browns.
Photo via Getty