Did the Cleveland Browns trade Trent Richardson for Jadaveon Clowney?

Trent Richardson is out, is Jadeveon Clowney in? Photo: Trent Richardson/AP

LOS ANGELES, September 22, 2013 — The speculation surrounding recently traded running back, Trent Richardson, has been somewhat of head scratcher to say the least. Sure Richardson did not fit the mold of Jim Brown’s or new head coach Rob Chudzinski’s ideal running back, but he was still a productive player last season. With a trade like this happening so early in the year, the question has to be raised as to whether or not the Browns are throwing in the towel for the season.

Positioning themselves for the 2014 NFL Draft seems like an obvious priority with this move. “I don’t want to tip our hands, but it puts us in a very good position to have made some good progress in the off-season, we’re in good (salary) cap shape,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said in USA Today. “We’re positioning ourselves to build a team that is good and sustainable.”

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For those of you who do not follow the draft, this class is projected to be one of the deepest in years. The top two prospects are expected to be South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Browns most certainly will have a tough choice to make, but should not get sucked into the trap going with the flashiest pick. This is a strategy that has not really worked so well for them in the past. 

From a business perspective, it is understandable the league has become more about advertising, ticket sales and merchandising. Today’s NFL is a quarterback driven league and offense sells tickets. Theoretically drafting a franchise quarterback would seem like the smartest decision. The problem is a player like Clowney at 6’6, 274 lbs. does not come around too often.  When factoring in all his measurables the projected upside for him is off the charts. Combine that with a surreal 40 time that has been reportedly clocked in at the 4.4 - 4.5 range and it makes him the most athletic NFL defensive line prospect to date. According to pro scouts he is considered to be a once in a decade type talent.

“In Clowney, several NFL scouts I’ve spoken to see a meaner, nastier version of Peppers. An NFC personnel executive told me that Clowney is ‘stronger and more combative’ than the Bears Pro Bowl defensive end,” said Bucky Brooks on NFL.com. “An AFC scout familiar with both players described Clowney as ‘more natural and relentless’ than Peppers at this stage in his career, and couldn’t stop raving about his disruptive  potential as an edge rusher.”

Now just think about this for a second. Julius Peppers is arguably one of the most athletic defensive ends to ever play the position. Is a meaner, nastier Julius Peppers even possible? More importantly, would you prefer to be the team playing with or against that guy? I’m guessing if you are like most GM’s it is probably the latter. 

“When teams are drafting players at the top of the board, the goal is to land a difference-maker capable of turning around the fortunes of the franchise,” Brooks continued. “Based on Clowney’s size, talent and disruptive potential, there is little doubt the junior defensive end will be in the discussion for the No. 1 player taken, no matter when he decides to enter the draft.”  

Arguments have been made as to whether or not the Browns could have shopped Richardson around for more value, but the reality is they more than likely were not going to get much more for him. In last year’s draft there was simply no denying that Cleveland reached with the third overall pick, and the likelihood of Richardson getting injured again this year had to be factored into this decision as well. What fans also have to keep in mind here is that running backs are a dime dozen in the NFL. They no longer hold the same value for teams as in previous years. Star running backs are often drafted in the later rounds or even picked up as undrafted free agents. Running backs typically have the shortest career span as well with an average of 2.57 years.

Trading away a proven commodity for future potential is almost never a wise decision, but in this specific case an exception can be made. Drafting Clowney is that exception. Richardson was not exactly the next Adrian Peterson nor the second coming of Emmitt Smith, so the Browns more than likely were not going anywhere with him leading their franchise. Sure, losing him may hurt in the short term with fans, but look at the big picture here. When you are a franchise that has made as many boneheaded decisions as Cleveland has, sometimes you just have to hit the reset button and start all over. Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA draft with Lebron James, an opportunity like this one only comes around once in a generation.

“We have to earn their belief and trust with the decisions we’ll make,” Banner told USA Today. “I don’t expect them to believe that until the trust is well-placed, but we have to do what we think is right to move the franchise forward.”  

If Cleveland truly wishes to turn their franchise around then they should start by realizing that the best decision may not always be the flashiest one. NFL franchises that have successfully built their teams through the draft possess the fundamental understanding that you have to start from the inside out.  As Bill Parcells would say, “The game is won in the trenches”. If given the opportunity, drafting Jadeveon Clowney would be the smartest move this team has made in decades.

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Luka Barnes

Luka Barnes is a Los Angeles native and fellow sports enthusiast who writes for the Washington Times Communities as an NFL and NBA contributor. He is also an avid follower of Collegiate and High School athletics.

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