Coach Rob Chudzinski and team officials have their work cut out for them… (Rob Carr / Getty Images )
What in the name of Otto Graham are the Cleveland Browns doing?
In trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in 2014, they pitched last year's No. 3 pick two games into the season and treated their real-life NFL franchise the way I handle my fantasy team. Don't like the results? Start trading!
It's obvious that the Browns, despite their predictable claims to the contrary, have no expectations for this season. The individual players do, of course, because that's how they're wired, and there's no guarantee they will be on the roster tomorrow, let alone next season.
The most surprising part of the Richardson trade was the timing, because it's so rare to have a high-profile NFL player change teams during the season.
"Trent was going to be the face of this organization, a high draft pick, much was expected out of him," Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson told reporters Thursday. "Now that he's gone, I can see the frustration of the fans. The die-hard fans thought we had something in Trent.
"That's the ugly side of the business we can't control."
But for the new Browns regime, which didn't draft Richardson or quarterback Brandon Weeden, also a first-rounder last year, a drastic reboot makes sense. This is a franchise that has made the playoffs once since re-forming in 1999, and has had just two winning seasons during that span. So getting a first-round pick for Richardson — one that can be used on a quarterback, or packaged to move up and draft a quarterback — makes sense.
Because Weeden has a thumb sprain, Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, getting the nod over the more experienced Jason Campbell because, Browns Coach Rob Chudzinski said, Hoyer's "strengths are the best fit for this week."
Richardson might have been the centerpiece of Cleveland's offense, but he has yet to prove he's an elite back. He has been plagued by injury problems and has rushed for a ho-hum average of 3.5 yards per carry. How much of that has been because of his lousy offensive line, we'll see, because he will now be running behind a better line and will have a better quarterback.
"I'm not saying that he's not a good player," Jackson said of Richardson. "He's just going to be a good player for another organization, and the powers that be felt like that was the best thing for the team and we've got to move forward."
What brings Browns fans to a boil is that this organization has blown opportunity after opportunity over the years with now 19 starting quarterbacks since the team re-formed.
Since their rebirth, the Browns have drafted quarterbacks Tim Couch, Luke McCown, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, and Weeden — Couch, Quinn and Weeden in the first round — and none has been the answer. So people outside the organization are not overflowing with confidence that extra draft picks will be the answer, even with the new regime of Browns Chief Executive Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi.
"It just seems like every time we build for the future, we take a step backwards," said Kevin Hoyt, president of the Southern California Browns Backers Assn., which has about 1,000 members and is the largest organized group of Browns fans outside of Ohio.
As for Richardson, he has moved on. Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said Thursday that he expects him to contribute in Sunday's game at San Francisco.
"We did not bring him in here to be the water boy," Pagano said. "He will be ready to roll."
The Colts are hoping Richardson will be to quarterback Andrew Luck what former Colts star Edgerrin James was to Peyton Manning.
Said Pagano, formerly Baltimore's defensive coordinator: "All I know is, I got a couple texts from some players I used to coach and it was, 'Wow, congrats and thank you.' And you know why they said 'Thank you,' because he's out of the division. That tells you right there. He's a game-wrecker."
Cleveland's season is probably already wrecked. Despite the awkward timing of the trade, the Browns are doing the right thing by moving on and putting themselves in position to start fresh in 2014. It's just that the organization has no credibility.
"We have to earn their belief and trust in the decisions we're going to make as a group, and I don't expect them to trust that until we prove that the trust is well placed," Banner said of the fans. "So, I understand the skepticism for now."
On Thursday, Cleveland.com asked Browns fans to come up with a catchy new slogan for the team, and the submissions included "We're so much smarter than anybody else," and "Home of the four letter word and it is not wins."
The one that should resonate most?
"Wait till the year after next year."