The Vikings came into Wednesday's practice knowing they weren't going to have to deal with Cleveland starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, a first-round pick from last season. After they finished practice, they learned they didn't have to deal with running back Trent Richardson. The Browns traded with the Vikings to move up one spot to take Richardson at No. 3 overall in the 2012 draft – even though the Vikings had no intention of taking Richardson.
Feel free to re-read that last sentence. For a fan base starving for marquee talent, Richardson jerseys likely outsold all other current Browns players combined. He was the face of the franchise. Now he joins first overall 2012 draft pick Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
Wait … what?
In the new world of the NFL, drafting a running back in the first round means one of three things – you're going to take three years to offer him a second contract, you let him play four years and roll the dice in free agency, or you hamstring him for a fifth season with the franchise tag and then let him loose.
Add a fourth option. You let a guy go after 18 games to the dismay of your fan base.
Keep in mind that Richardson was drafted after the new CBA was signed and rookie contracts weren't nearly as disastrous (think JaMarcus Russell-style Ground Zero). But to trade T-Rich two games into his second season is a sign that the Browns are willing to cut and run on anybody.
In an attempt to make sense of it, a rational person could understand the Browns making a trade like that with Jacksonville. When they play Dec. 1 and both local affiliates apologize to the dozens of fans watching the game, what may be at stake is the quarterback that one franchise or the other lands, convincing fans to buy hundreds of thousands of jersey of their new future front-man. Cleveland fans may not have a jersey-buying rush to judgment anymore.
There are babies in Ohio that were wearing No. 33 Onesies Wednesday afternoon. This is a betrayal of a fan base like few in history. It would make sense if they were trading with the Jags. But they made the trade with the Colts. Indianapolis went 11-5 last season and had the 24th pick in the NFL draft – one pick after the Vikings selected Sharrif Floyd as manna from heaven in front of them. There's no reason to believe that the first-round pick Indy will give up in exchange for Richardson will be anything better than a middle-third pick (somewhere between 13 and 24). That's what Wall Street analyst's view as buying high and selling low.
When the Vikings traded Percy Harvin, it was at a point where the franchise had to commit big money or let him leave. It was a no-win situation in which they got the best deal they could. With T-Rich, the Browns had already invested heavily – thanks to the swap of first-round picks, the Vikings got wide receiver Jarius Wright and Robert Blanton. Cleveland already came out worse for wear to acquire Richardson in the first place. This looks like a "cut and run" move.
Hopefully, the Vikings franchise will never get to the level of embarrassment that The Artists Formerly Known As Browns Nation is experiencing today. The face of the franchise was sold. If Richardson was going to be a bust – far from a given – the powers that be in Cleveland decided that nobody is safe on their roster. Not exactly the family atmosphere that will entice free agents to sign in the future.
Only time will tell if Richardson was an underachieving head case, but the Vikings defensive game plan, especially with trivia answer Brian Hoyer at the wheel, was centered around stopping Richardson. Not only is the QB gone, so is the heart and soul of the offense. By choice, not by injury.
In 2014, the Browns will get repayment of the running back they let get away. For 2013, the Colts get a free player on a new-CBA rookie contract that, even if things go south in the AFC South as they apparently did in the AFC North, they can walk out from under the contract without any damage being done to the franchise.
For the Colts, it's a minimal long-term risk in exchange for immediate gratification for a playoff team with a playoff-caliber passing game, but a pedestrian running game. Houston, you have a problem. His name is Trent Richardson.
As Derek Smalls famously said in This Is Spinal Tap, "Hello, Cleveland!" He, too, was lost.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Holler: Cleveland throws up white flag
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