With the deal for Trent Richardson done, it is important to evaluate the Browns roster now and discuss what needs to happen going forward. First, it is a mistake to assume the Browns just cast Richardson aside or that no one else is safe and everyone else is going to get shipped. Second, the Browns offense was abysmal before the trade and will be abysmal after the trade. Third, the front office has put the pressure on themselves to deliver in the 2014 NFL Draft and get the Browns a franchise quarterback. The deal for Richardson was an extremely unique opportunity and they had to make a move on it, but it will be regarded as a failure if the Browns cannot make the move count.
The last running back to be traded for a first round pick was Ricky Williams from the Saints to the Dolphins in 2002 and that was still a rare situation. Trades involving running backs for a first round pick are extremely rare and even some of the best backs go for much less. In 1999, the Indianapolis Colts traded Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams for a second and fifth round pick. Those same Rams had traded Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers with a third round pick for a second and fourth round pick in 1996. Marshawn Lynch was traded by the Buffalo Bills to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 for a 2011 fourth round pick and a conditional fifth round pick in 2012. As talented as Richardson might be, those three backs had proven more in the NFL than Richardson has to this point and they all went for much less.
This was a deal of opportunity. The Colts led by Jim Irsay were desperate for a running back after having lost Vick Ballard for the season with an injury on top of losing their tight end, Dwayne Allen, for the year. Had the Browns held onto Richardson all year, this offer was not extremely unlikely to be available. The Colts could have addressed their running back position in the draft, free agency, so while they could have wanted to make a move for Richardson then, their bargaining position would have been stronger and the offer lower. If the Browns were going to maximize the value on Richardson, now was the time to make the move.
Because it was a move of opportunity, it does not mean that they are looking to ship everyone else out of town just for the sake of doing it. If a team wants to pay for a player on the Browns for a premium price, they will certainly consider it, but that is unlikely. This was a unique situation. There is no fire sale impending.
It is certainly possible that Richardson would have rounded into form and been the dominant back the Browns had hoped for when Holmgren and Heckert drafted him. It is also possible that nagging injuries, especially to his knees, would have prevented him from ever being the player he could be. Hopefully, the Colts get a great back as Richardson seems like a great kid and it works out for them. Richardson failing there does not make this move a success any more than Richardon succeeding there makes this move a bad trade. They have to pay it off with a quarterback.
With the state of the offense being what it is, finding wins on the schedule are incredibly difficult and they should be. As much as it will not be fun to watch, the best thing that can happen to the Browns is finishing with the top pick in the NFL Draft, so they can land the best quarterback. Having an extra first round pick and having the offense manned by Brian Hoyer and Willis McGahee only helps to ensure that happens.
The fact the offense is in the state it is does not take away from the talent that this team has on its roster. The defense is legitimately good and getting better. Having a front seven that teams legitimately envy in addition to Joe Haden and T.J. Ward is a pretty good situation. They can continue to get better and evolve this year and make opponents struggle to beat the Browns while still ultimately succeeding.
As bad as the offense is, much of that is based around the fact they do not have a quarterback. Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, and Mitchell Schwartz did not forget how to play. Having Oniel Cousins forced into action makes a big difference but it goes beyond that part of it. While Josh Gordon was suspended, defenses had no one they were really afraid to account for in terms of the Browns weapons. Jordan Cameron might be emerging as someone who can be a player in that vein, but Gordon coming back this week will have an impact.
The larger problem goes back to the quarterback. Teams are simply not afraid of him or his ability to beat them with his arm. As strong as it might be, Weeden has not done a good job of going through his progressions which has resulted in some missed opportunities. He is also flustered by pressure. Defenses loaded up the box to stop Richardson and dared Weeden to beat them. Weeden gave about the best game he could against the Ravens and the team scored 6 points. A legitimate quarterback makes everything better, which is a big reason the Colts expect him to flourish there. The Browns have a better offensive line than the Colts do; substantially better.
While the Browns have 10 total picks in the 2014 NFL Draft as it currently stands, they have to make them count. First and foremost, they have to get a quarterback, whether that involves using picks to move up and get one or hopefully finishing low enough where they only need to use the top pick. Everything around this deal revolves around getting a franchise quarterback and getting it right. They missed the opportunity with Robert Griffin III and went with Weeden. This is the opportunity to make up for that embarrassing error. Fans do not need trust the front office. The front office needs to deliver the fans and the team a franchise quarterback.
Beyond that, they need to use many of the remaining picks to give that quarterback weapons. If Josh Gordon can become the player everyone hopes and Cameron continues to play well, the cupboard is not exactly bare. They could get another receiver to play opposite Gordon and perhaps another tight end to complement Cameron as an inline presence who can block and give a different look as a receiver. They also need to get a defensive back somewhere in this draft as well as a running back and perhaps multiple running backs. The Browns can also look to furnish additional offensive line help at the guard spots if they feel the need. Hopefully, Garrett Gilkey evolves into one of them. They have 10 picks to accomplish these goals with the potential to maneuver in the draft to get the players they want.
If the Browns can deliver on a franchise quarterback with the weapons they have on offense and continuing to add more, they will be able to make a jump quickly. Much like Andrew Luck with the Colts or Griffin in Washington or Tannehill in Miami, a quarterback makes so much of a difference and helps make everyone better. The Browns will still have a good defense they can rely on that should only get better. Everything revolves around getting a quarterback and the right one, which is on the front office to deliver, but if they can do it, they can be extremely competitive quickly. The Browns have asked fans to go through a lot and they are doing it again, but if they can get through it and get their quarterback, it will be worth it. The failures of the past at the quarterback position are irrelevant. This front office did make those picks. They will have their shot and they have to hit on it. If they are not able to do it, feel free to take torches and pitchforks to storm the complex in Berea.