November 28, 2014

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Scott Petrak: Trent Richardson trade makes sense, but message it sends to fans and players doesn’t

Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson sits on the bench Sunday. (AP Photo/Aaron Kehoe)

Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson sits on the bench Sunday. (AP Photo/Aaron Kehoe)

I’ve had some wild weeks in my time covering the Browns every day since 2004. Last week makes the top five.

It couldn’t match last year’s opening week of training camp when Randy Lerner announced he was selling the team, or the end-of-2005 power struggle between general manager Phil Savage and president John Collins. But the out-of-nowhere trade of running back Trent Richardson on the same day as a quarterback change will be something I won’t forget.

The coaches and players showed they were ready to move past it Sunday with the surprising and thrilling 31-27 win over the Vikings, but I have a few lingering thoughts to get off my chest.

* I’m good with the trade. I was as stunned as anyone not named Richardson, but the deal makes sense.

CEO Joe Banner never would’ve taken Richardson, or any running back, at No. 3 in the draft. He certainly wouldn’t have given up three draft picks to move up one spot to get him. We both believe good running backs are available lower in the draft.

So to get a first-round pick in return was too much to turn down.

* Richardson isn’t an elite back.

I wouldn’t trade Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles for a first-round pick — Banner might, depending on how high the pick is — but Richardson isn’t in the same class.

After watching him for 17 games, I’m convinced he doesn’t have the explosion to be a special back. Yes, he has a nose for the end zone. Yes, he fights for every yard. Yes, he can wear down a defense.

But he doesn’t have the burst — blame the injuries from high school through the pros — to split the crease and break off 40-yard runs. His career long is 32.

* I don’t like the message it sent.

I know the Browns aren’t a playoff team, and weren’t with Richardson. But it’s impossible to argue they’re better this season with soon-to-be 32-year-old Willis McGahee who’s coming off a knee injury and wasn’t in a training camp.

While I approve of the trade — not that Banner cares — the notion of trying to get better for the future doesn’t sit well, especially after only two games. The fans invest too much time, money and emotion into every Browns season to have the front office dismiss one.

This isn’t the NBA, where teams get rid of talent to improve their prospects in the draft. This is the NFL, where every game’s precious. That’s one of the reasons I like covering the league.

Banner insists the organization hasn’t given up on this season, and the coaches and players made it obvious they’re not in tank mode during the trip to Minnesota. But when you look at the decision to trade two draft picks in 2013 for two in 2014, followed by the turnover at the bottom of the roster after the preseason, it’s impossible to say the front office doesn’t have one eye on 2014.

It should. The Browns aren’t a finished product. The moves are about creating sustainable success over the long haul.

I get the reality of the situation, but it doesn’t mean I, or the fans, have to like it.

* Tanking is strictly prohibited.

Again, this isn’t the NBA, which instituted a draft lottery to prevent purposely losing to gain the top draft pick. Making the playoffs isn’t reward enough in the NBA. Only a handful of teams are capable of winning the title, and if you’re not among that select group you’re better off missing the playoffs.

This is the NFL. Any team good enough to make the playoffs can get hot in January and win the Super Bowl. And a seven- or eight-win season is considered a building block for the next year.

Losing should never be the goal in any sport. If it happens and the result is a top-five draft pick, fine, make the best of it. But the plan should never be trimming talent with the intent of losing.

Not only is it bad karma, talent — including premium quarterback talent — can be found throughout the NFL Draft, not just in the top five.

Quick thoughts

I haven’t given up on Brandon Weeden. I still believe he has the highest upside of the quarterbacks on the roster, know he played better in Week 2 than Week 1 and would love to see him with receiver Josh Gordon in coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.

With that said, it makes sense to start Brian Hoyer on Sunday against Cincinnati. Weeden hasn’t thrown in more than a week, was still in a brace in Minnesota and Hoyer won the game against the Vikings.

I’d give Hoyer another week, then re-evaluate the situation. But if the wins stop, Weeden should get another shot.

* I wouldn’t trade Gordon for anything less than a first-round pick. And I don’t think anyone would give that up for a guy that’s likely one more failed drug test from a year-long suspension.

* According to Profootballfocus.com, only 30 of Hoyer’s aimed passes (excluding throwaways and a batted pass) were catchable.

* Profootballfocus.com’s game review also showed big games for outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard, safety T.J. Ward and the offensive line.

Sheard was dominant in the run game and had a sack, a quarterback hit and four pressures before spraining his knee. Ward allowed only three catches for 10 yards and had an interception. The line allowed only six pressures after getting Weeden killed in the first two games.

* Cornerback Buster Skrine broke up two passes in the end zone. He allowed a 37-yard catch but was in great position on the underthrown ball and got a hand on it before Cordarrelle Patterson made a spectacular grab.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.