On Sunday the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts will meet for the first time since making one of the most fascinating NFL trades in years.
After a Week 2 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in September of 2013, the Browns traded former No. 3-overall pick Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick.
Fifteen months later, it’s clear that all those criticisms were misguided.
While the Colts may still sit above the Browns on the NFL totem pole, the Richardson trade has been an unqualified success for Cleveland and an unmitigated disaster for Indy.
The Browns managed to do two things in the trade: 1) offload a draft bust right before his value plummeted, and 2) acquire an asset that gave them extreme flexibility on draft night.
First, let’s take a closer look at what the Browns did with the first-round pick they got from Indianapolis.
That pick turned out to be No. 26 overall. It wasn’t as high as Cleveland hoped, but they were able to parlay the extra pick into even more draft value. Here’s what they did on draft night:
- Traded their own pick (4th overall) to Buffalo for a 2014 first-round pick (9th overall), a 2015 first-round pick, and a 2015 fourth-round pick.
- Picked Justin Gilbert at No. 9.
- Traded Indianapolis’ first-round pick (26th overall) and their own third-round pick (83rd overall) to Philadelphia for their first-round pick (22nd overall) .
- Picked Johnny Manziel at No. 22.
Cleveland turned two first-round picks (No. 4, No. 26) into three first-round picks (No. 9, No. 22, and Buffalo’s 2015 pick) and managed to get Johnny Manziel. They pulled this off because they were willing to trade down from No. 4 to No. 9. And they were willing to trade down because they had the luxury of an extra first-round pick from Indianapolis.
The Browns could afford to make that Buffalo deal because of the Richardson trade. They knew they were going to come out of the first round with two good players no matter what.
The thing that really makes the trade look good for Cleveland 12 months later, though, is just how bad Richardson has looked in Indy. There’s zero chance an NFL team would trade a high pick for Richardson right now, much less a first rounder.
He averaged 2.9 yards per rush last year with the Colts. That ranked 46th out of 48 eligible running backs. Only eight of his 126 carries went for 10 yards or longer. His longest run was 22 yards. By December Richardson was benched.
After some offseason buzz that 2014 would be different, this season has also been a struggle for Richardson. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per carry with three touchdowns in 11 games. The Colts have been decimated by injuries at running back. Vick Ballard went out for the year in training camp, and Ahmad Bradshaw was placed on season-ending injured reserve in mid-November.
You’d think Richardson’s workload would increase after those injuries. Instead, his carries have steadily diminished as the season has gone on. He’s now essentially splitting the primary running back job with Boom Herron — a career special teams player who had nine total carries coming into the 2014 season.
Time will tell if the Browns made smart picks in Manziel and Gilbert. But in terms of pure value, the trade looks startingly lopsided more than a year later.
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