I want to hate the Trent Richardson trade. I really do.
In fact, I do hate the fact the Browns braintrust — and I understand a lot of Cleveland fans will take issue with using “Browns” and any word containing “brain” in the same sentence — dealt away a guy drafted No. 3 overall in 2012.
But if I’m going to be 100-percent honest, I have to admit that I wasn’t sold on taking a running back with the third overall pick. Richardson was a sexy pick, but the Browns should have filled another glaring hole at that spot and worried about a running back later.
Think about it. The Washington Redskins drafted Alfred Morris in the sixth round and he rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie.
Sure, he played with Robert Griffin III and receivers who actually caught the ball, but the point is that effective running backs can be found throughout the draft if they’re put into good situations.
Back to Richardson: Other than getting injured, he didn’t do anything wrong as a rookie. He ran for 950 yards and a Browns rookie-record nine touchdowns and played hurt with broken ribs and assorted other bumps and bruises.
But as the season progressed, I didn’t see the burst of a top-three draft pick. It was especially striking to contrast the way Richardson ran with the way backup Montario Hardesty hit the holes when he was healthy.
Richardson never seemed to find the gaping running lanes other backs often zip through for big gains. Look it up — he had just two runs of 20 yards or more last season.
At the time — like most Browns fans — I chalked it up to the injuries, an offensive line that was solid, but not spectacular, and opposing defenses showing little regard for Cleveland’s passing attack.
With good health, improved blocking and the development of quarterback Brandon Weeden and the Browns’ receivers, Richardson was sure to increase his pedestrian 3.6-yard average per carry.
But in two losses in 2013, Richardson looked the same — ordinary. He ran for just 105 yards on 31 attempts — 3.4 yards per carry — in the Browns’ first two games. His longest run went for 10 yards.
Browns fans weren’t concerned. After all, very little changed from 2012. Weeden was still inconsistent, Greg Little still dropped as many passes as he caught and — if anything — the offensive line took a step back. The right side, with Oniel Cousins at right guard and Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle, has been particularly asbysmal.
And on Wednesday, the Browns announced Brian Hoyer will start against Minnesota on Sunday as Weeden (thumb) is out.
The Colts, meanwhile, lost starting running back Vick Ballard (ACL) for the season. They came calling and the Browns apparently figured they could just as easily go 4-12 without Richardson as they could with him.
I want to hate the trade, because it means last year’s draft was a waste. I want to hate it because I have zero faith in Browns GM Mike Lombardi’s ability to get a franchise QB in 2014.
But I don’t think Willis McGahee — if he’s Richardson’s replacement — will do much worse.
Jim Brown said Richardson was “ordinary” and we wanted to believe otherwise. It could be he was right all along, even if we hate that fact and the trade.