In a stunning move, the Cleveland Browns guaranteed their fans another transition season Wednesday when they traded running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round draft pick.
The move gives the Colts two of the top three players selected in the 2012 NFL draft -- No. 1, quarterback Andrew Luck, and No. 3, Richardson.
It gives the Browns multiple 2014 draft choices in the first, third and fourth rounds.
More immediately, it leaves the 2013 team floundering in transition mode, as the Richardson trade followed the announcement that Bobby Hoyer is starting at quarterback Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. And the team hinted that former starter Brandon Weeden might not get the job back.
Cleveland CEO Joe Banner told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday night that the Browns and Colts first discussed the trade Tuesday. He said the deal allows management to accomplish its goals going forward.
"This was more about the moment presented itself," Banner said. "It wasn't something where we could say, 'Wait three weeks.' ... We had to make that decision now.
He added, "The value that we were getting back ... made this a thing we wanted to do."
The trade necessitated the Browns to bring in 31-year-old running back Willis McGahee, who is expected to sign if he passes his physical. McGahee was cut by the Denver Broncos after rushing for only 731 yards in 2012, although he did run for 1,199 in 2011.
Late Wednesday, Richardson's hometown newspaper, the Pensacola News Journal, reported that the 22-year-old former Alabama star was pleased to be going to the Colts.
"Trent is very happy with the situation," a source told the News Journal. "He doesn't hold any hard feelings against Cleveland. He enjoyed his time there and wishes them success. He's happy to move to another city where he can continue his career.
"At the end of the day, Trent understands that the NFL is a business; it's not personal. He's blessed to be one of the 1,800 players who wear the shield."
According to tweets by longtime Cleveland Browns reporter Mary Kay Cabot, Richardson's perspective was he "and Weeden don't like each other. ... says Weeden sucks. ... will never win here" Plus she and other sources report that Richardson "HATES" the snow.
Although it does snow in Indianapolis, the Colts play indoors, where Richardson and Luck might be expected to become one of the best offensive balancing acts in the NFL.
While the Browns are not planning on making any further deals, Wednesday's trade will allow Banner and new general manager Mike Lombardi to shape the team how they want.
"I don't want to tip our hand about what we're going to do," Banner said, "but I think it puts us in a good position. ... We are positioning ourselves to build a team that is good and sustainable."
Lombardi has definitely made moves to determine his legacy in this, his second turn with the Browns. He also previously had stints as a personnel man with the Philadelphia Eagles and Oakland Raiders that did not end well. He spent the past five years in the media, most recently for NFL Network.
Wednesday's quarterback decision reflects the direction Lombardi wants to take. Lombardi has had an affinity for Hoyer dating back to his days as a television analyst in 2010. And it smacks of his known dislike of anything left over from the previous regime of Mike Holmgren.
Weeden was Holmgren's No. 22 overall pick in 2012. Now a bad thumb has opened the door for Hoyer, who leapfrogged erstwhile backup Jason Campbell to get the start Sunday.
Unless Lombardi is so high on Hoyer to believe he is the future quarterback for the Browns, and the player lives up to that expectation for the balance of this season, then it would seem Cleveland is positioning itself to acquire a franchise quarterback next year.
The Browns should have the currency to address that in free agency, where they are projected to have $24 million in cap room, and the draft.
Although their desirability and availability are unknown at this time, the highest-paid quarterbacks who will become free agents in 2014 are Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears), Michael Vick (Eagles), Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Chad Henne (Jacksonville Jaguars).
According to current rankings by NFLDraftScout.com on CBS, the top five college quarterbacks, assuming they enter the draft, are:
--1. Teddy Bridgewater, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, junior, Louisville.
--2. Brett Hundley, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, redshirt sophomore, UCLA.
--3. Tajh Boyd, 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, redshirt senior, Clemson.
--4. Marcus Mariota, 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, redshirt sophomore, Oregon.
--5. Johnny Manziel, 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, redshirt sophomore, Texas A&M.
All but Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, are projected as first-round picks at this early date.
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