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Trent Richardson Traded to the Colts: The Death of the Highly Drafted Running Back

In both Major League Baseball and the NBA, trades are fairly commonplace, not only during the offseason, but in season as well. The trade deadlines in each sport are well known by fans and generally viewed as important dates on the respective calendars for each sport.

That's where the NFL has always been different.

Sure, in the offseason we see the usual flurry of trades leading up to the draft, with virtually every trade involving some draft pick or collection of draft picks, but we rarely see trades during the season. Also, we rarely see trades that at least appear to almost intentionally weaken a team to the point of ensuring failure on the field (a staple in the NBA).

On Wednesday afternoon, though, we got an NFL trade that appears to have hit all of those hot buttons. Just two weeks into the 2013 season, the Cleveland Browns traded their starting running back (and third overall pick in the 2012 draft) Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for the Colts' 2014 first round pick.

It was a "Holy shit!" moment not so much because Trent Richardson is a good player (which he is), but because trades like this never go down two weeks into the NFL season. Ever.

So let's examine what this all means:

What this trade means to the Colts... In an offseason where the Colts spent millions of dollars and cap space trying to bolster their offensive line and their defense, they were still starting the season with the decidedly average Ahmad Bradshaw as their starting tailback, backed up by the even more average Vic Ballard. The team obviously feels that in the short term, Bradshaw isn't going to be good enough to take pressure off of second year franchise quarterback Andrew Luck (and Ballard is injured).

Additionally, long term, they feel RIchardson can be a marquee tailback to pair with Luck as a future cornerstone of the franchise. Not that their draft slot matters anymore, but it is saying something that a year removed from the 2012 draft, the Colts have found a way to secure the services of two of the top three players in that group. Put it this way -- if the Colts had found a way to secure Richardson on 2012 draft night for a 2014 first rounder, many experts would be asking Roger Goodell to investigate or espousing some wacky conspiracy theories. So if you loved Richardson in 2012 on draft night, and then one year later you still like Richardson even close to as much as you may have then, then you should love this deal.

And regardless of how much you like Trent Richardson, the Colts undeniably got better in 2013 today.

What this trade means for the Browns.... It means that they've punted on the 2013 season before we even got out of the month of September, not that I don't agree with GM Mike Lombardi's apparent forecast for his team. It's a new regime in the front office for Cleveland, so it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that they are cleaning house everywhere. Frankly, I thought that drafting Richardson (or any running back not named Adrian Peterson) with the third overall pick, much less trading multiple picks (a 4th, 5th, and 7th) to move up one spot to number three, was ill advised at the time.

Now, a year into Richardson's Browns career it's painfully obvious this team is at least a few years away from winning at any significant level. By then, Richardson would be four or five very physical, bruising years into his career and close to the age and workload where we start to see running backs dip in productivity, and then what? If you're Cleveland, you paid him and brought him along during his "with value" years and, in the words of Ricky Watters, "For who, for what?"

Cleveland more or less gets to recoup some value on a pick they probably never should have made in the first place.

What this means for Brandon Weeden... It's a virtual lock now that Weeden's career in Cleveland, at least as the future starter, is over. With a likely top three pick (their own) and a pick somewhere around, say, twenty or so (the Colts' pick), the Browns are clearly positioning themselves for a run at one of the many talented quarterbacks available in the 2014 draft. Assuming the two picks are spaced out as I've outlined above, the Browns now have the flexibility of taking one of the very first (possibly the very first) quarterbacks off the board, or if they see value in quarterbacks three, four, or five, they can probably wait and get one with that Colts pick and draft an impact player on defense in the top five. (How nice would Barkevious Mingo and Jadeveon Clowney look as bookends, Cleveland?)

Also, the extra first rounder gives them ammunition to move up if they choose to. In short, if this deal positions them to better land the quarterback of the future, it's a good deal. (Keep in mind the Browns have drafted four quarterbacks that have been deemed "the future" since expanding back into Cleveland in 1999 -- Tim Couch (1999), Brady Quinn (2007), Colt McCoy (2010), and Weeden (2012). Quite the Mount Rushmore, indeed.)

What this trade means for the Texans... The Colts got better, but maybe by a game at the most. The AFC South is still the Texans' for the taking. Life got a little bit harder, but carry on, Houston.   What this trade means for gamblers... If you were sitting on a futures bet for the Colts to win the Super Bowl, you probably had them at around 75/1. After the trade, they dropped to 50/1, still a long shot but better value for you 75/1 ticket holders. If you were sitting on a futures bet for the Browns to win the Super Bowl, you were probably too busy online shopping for magic beans to even know Trent Richardson had been traded.

What this means to Jim Irsay's Twitter swagger... The Colts' erstwhile owner has always been a bit of a nutjob on social media and very prone to hyperbole, but this trade actually lived up to the Irsay hype machine. That said, here are his Wednesday tweets in chronological order:

Irsay's exclamation point game is spot on, even if his verb choice is incorrect (ahem, shock and awe ARE coming... plural...)...

Irsay is so excited he's asking questions using

just

exclamation points!!!!!

Superfluous capitalization? Check....

Still cognizant enough business wise to make sure you click a link to get the news. Respect, Jim....

This, my friends, is a MONSTER trade and deserves an 18 exclamation point salute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hilarious and much better than his incessant hyping of the Colts' free agent signings back in March.

What this trade means for future college running backs... In my opinion, the trade of Richardson was the death blow to the thought of teams using high first round picks on running backs. Consider the following:

* Rarely is running back the most glaring need on a bad team anyway, but with NFL teams in general much more cognizant of shelf lives and carry counts on running backs, it's already become less likely they will want to take a player whose percentage of "prime years used while the team rebuilds" is much higher than that of virtually every other position. For many running backs, on bad teams, chances are you are going to get beat up for a few years before your team turns it around, if they turn it around. (Unless you catch lightning in a bottle on one of those worst-to-first type teams, which is highly unlikely.)

* Consider the last three drafts (2011-2013): In 2013, the first running back taken was Gio Bernard with the 37th pick; in 2012, the first running back picked after Richardson was Doug Martin with the 31st pick; and in 2011, the first running back picked was Mark Ingram with the 28th pick. Richardson was the only one taken in a "franchise" type draft slot the last three years, the rest all went 28th or later.

Now Richardson is being moved for sixty cents on the dollar. In short, the message was hammered home today: running backs, even ones we all agree are good, are disposable, flippable commodities not worthy of a high draft pick.

Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be tailbacks. (Let 'em be corners and safeties and such.)

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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