Our first reaction is: Wow. No one anywhere can say they saw this one coming, maybe not even Jim Irsay himself.
The Browns have a very good defense this year; the AFC North is completely up for grabs; Josh Gordon is back this week; and they looked set to see what Weeden could do for them the rest of the year. On the other side of it, the Colts have some decent depth at RB with Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, and Donald Brown. On the surface, you wouldn’t expect this kind of trade to happen between this two teams, let alone in the early days of week 3.
So lets start with the Browns side of things: why give up on Trent Richardson just one year after taking him #3 overall? Obviously the first thing that comes to mind is the change in regime. New GMs always love to move some pieces around so that the roster and assets look the way they feel comfortable with. But isn’t T-Rich a solid asset? He’s a physically imposing back unlike any other in the league right now, and he’s a very capable receiver as well. So what gives?
Well, first off, T-Rich isn’t exactly cheap. The #3 pick in the draft is still fairly expensive even with the new rookie pay scale. He is currently in the second year of a 4-year deal worth $20.5 million that is FULLY guaranteed. This guarantee of more than $5M per year is the highest in the league, higher even than Adrian Peterson! A good comparison is Doug Martin, who was drafted 31st overall last year. He’s also on a 4 year deal, but for only $6.7 million total. So even though they are giving up a quality player, it’s easy to see that the Browns are saving quite a bit of money on this trade.
The next thing to consider is that Brandon Weeden has an injury to his throwing hand– specifically, an injury to his thumb, which is the worst possible quarterback finger to be injured. The Browns have already announced that Brian Hoyer will be starting this week, just the second start of his six-year career. Even if GM Mike Lombardi liked Weeden (which is not very likely, as he was a Holmgren pick, and pretty much no one outside of the Holmgren FO likes Weeden), he would still be dealing with the prospect of having him out for the next week or weeks. Already staring at an 0-2 record, and facing a tough road matchup against the Vikings, this season’s once promising prospects are not so promising anymore. All these things considered, its the perfect situation for a new GM to start moving some pieces around and start preparing for next year.
And that’s the final thing to consider here: next year’s draft class. There are a bundle of potential franchise QB’s coming out this year. Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Tajh Boyd, Aaron Murray, and a few others with enticing potential as well. Regardless of who they like, its definitely a good draft class to add another first-round pick if you are lacking in the QB department. The Colts are a solid team, but by no means a juggernaut, so the Browns should safely expect that pick in the 15-20 range, and almost certainly better than 25. So while Browns fans might be dejected about another non-competitive year, I think they have done good enough with this trade to feel good about the future of the franchise.
As for the Colts, the deal is a little bit of a head-scratcher since they just signed Ahmad Bradshaw, but he’s only on a one year deal, and has a lot of mileage. He isn’t nearly the player Richardson is. T-Rich gives them a nice play-maker to take some heat off of Luck, who has been carrying this team on his back. Aside from Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, this really isn’t a very talented roster, which is why you might not like the fact that they are losing next years first-round pick. However, considering the quality of the player they are getting, it’s hard for this trade to really be that bad, and they have the cap space to pay T-Rich. He will step in right away and contribute to an already promising offense that is looking to lead the Colts to a second straight playoff berth. Considering the weakness of the AFC, its definitely a decent move for at least 2013.
There is of course an obvious downside to going all-in like this. The Colts tied up a lot of money this offseason in players who weren’t necessarily top tier (Cherilus, Landry, Walden) and without much upside. T-Rich is easily the youngest and most talented addition they’ve made since the end of 2012, and he’s not without his own concerns. His physical style of play led to him being dinged up most of last year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that continue in the future. Making big offseason moves outside of the draft can usually help out in the short term, but this approach can very often lead to significant problems down the road. Considering the general lack of talent on the Colts beyond their top 5-6 players, it’s not a stretch to say that these moves will hamstring them in 2014 and beyond.
It’s hard to say that anyone distinctly won this trade, as only time will tell how T-Rich develops and how the Browns make use of their draft picks. But looking at the overall situation, you have to say that the Browns likely came out on top here. They cleared a decent sized contract, picked up a first-round pick in a good draft, and further ensured the likelihood of making their own pick in the same draft a top-5 pick. The Colts are clearly committed to winning now, and this trade certainly makes them better, but it comes with a lot of future risk attached, and their roster didn’t really dictate that a move like this needed to made. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general, NFL teams that invest in the future rather than in the short term end up enjoying more success. Kudos to Mike Lombardi for taking advantage of what he perceived as a future edge for the Browns.