The Cleveland Browns are a model franchise.
That’s right, I said it. Now that the initial shock has worn off, the decision by the team’s new brass to deal away Trent Richardson a little over a year after their predecessors used the third-overall pick on him is being met with more praise than mockery.
Count me among those who like the move. With or without Richardson, Cleveland’s season was certain to end at some point before the first Sunday in February 2014. What’s more, by removing their best skill position player, the team will now presumably fare worse over the remainder of the season (Hoyer heroics notwithstanding), which will improve their draft slot next spring. Let’s call it ‘subtraction by subtraction’, an approach a lot of other NFL teams would do well to copy.
Yeah, I know: NFL teams don’t trade much. The league may be more popular than our other favorite sports leagues, but it’s bringing up the rear in terms of trades, in-season or out. And that’s too bad for us fans. Trades are exciting, polarizing, dramatic. In other words, trades make our deluded devotion to watching plus-sized grownups run into each other on purpose even more fun than it already is.
Not that NFL teams care about such things. It’s a business, after all… but that’s precisely why some teams should consider following the Browns’ lead. Downgrading the 2013 roster to improve 2014’s outlook isn’t insane, it’s downright sensible. As it happens, there are also teams out there who consider them in the thick of the playoff hunt, but still need one missing piece – that x-factor – to legitimize their ambition. For every Detroit Lions – currently in need of a wide receiver – there’s the New York Giants – imploding at 0-3 and in the last year of Hakeem Nicks’ current contract.
Who could turn their backs on such serendipity? Well, the Giants, for one. They’ve quickly poo-poo’d rumors about their intention to deal Nicks … but a closer look at the Browns’ move last week just might open their eyes to the possibilities. I know it has mine. Here are a few of trades I’ve cooked up with nothing more than common sense and a healthy spirit of reckless speculation:
Broncos get DE Jared Allen; Vikings get QB Brock Osweiler
Denver makes up for their summertime fax paus by replacing Elvis Dumervil with a new (and even better) pass-rushing bookend for Von Miller. The Vikes get a ray of hope for the future in the big-armed Sun Devil.
49ers get WR Kenny Britt; Titans get 4th-rd pick
Harbaugh & Co. don’t fear pass-catching ne’er-do-wells (witness their employment of guys like Randy Moss & Jon Baldwin). On the field, Britt would be an ideal fit opposite Anquan Boldin in the short-term, and – with Vernon Davis on the mend and Michael Crabtree on the way – contribute to a collection of pass catchers devastating enough to make even the Seahawks defense shudder.
Bengals get QB Josh Freeman; Buccaneers get a 4th-rd pick
Everything’s peachy in Cincy right now, but just imagine how sour things would be if the team lost that game at home against Pittsburgh a couple Monday nights ago. Had the Bengals fallen to 0-2, Andy Dalton would’ve been the subject of Sanchezian level criticism both locally and nationally. For now, Dalton is holding the fort … but the fact remains his lack of a big arm is an acute shortcoming in an offense filled with receivers capable of making big plays down the field. Speaking of going deep, the Bengals have a great shot at doing just that in the playoffs. However, if they don’t have a stranglehold on a weak AFC North by, say, Thanksgiving, the usually conservative Marvin Lewis might welcome the chance to go bold with a cannon-armed kid like Freeman.
Rams get RB Mark Ingram; Saints get RB Isaiah Pead
St. Louis finally got Sam Bradford some legitimate receivers this off-season, but also watched Steven Jackson run off to Atlanta. Here, they give first-round disappointment Ingram new life with a featured role, while Pead goes to a place where they’ll know how to better use him.
Lions get WR Josh Gordon; Browns get RB Mikel Leshoure
It’d take guts to purge Gordon after his huge game in Minny, but if the Browns are serious about bottoming out, sending him to their rust-belt brethren up north makes sense. Leshoure would be a nice complementary banger for their 2014 QB TBD. As for Detroit, a talented burner on the other side of Calvin Johnson would make it a fair fight for Matt Stafford when he has to shoot it out with Aaron Rodgers.
Eagles get RB Maurice Jones-Drew; Jaguars get QB Nick Foles
Don’t worry, Shady: you’re still the Man. In fact, this move ensures it’ll stay that way. Chip Kelly’s offense is based on getting as many snaps as possible, so spelling the feature back is of particular importance. MJD’s got a ton of mileage, but he’ll thrive with in a reduced role (so long as he can reduce his ego to accommodate said role). Foles may or may not prove to be the franchise QB the Jags need, but before he takes a single snap, we know he’s better than anything the franchise has.
Panthers get WR Hakeem Nicks; Giants get RB Jonathan Stewart
Nicks – who’ll be gone from the Giants after this season – is the ideal solution for the restlessness his fellow North Carolina natives have endured since watching superhuman Cam Newton throw to an aging Steve Smith and a bunch of powder blue-clad Clark Kents. Stewart gives the Giants an imperfect cure to their weak backfield situation.
Cowboys get S Jairus Byrd & RB Fred Jackson; Bills get TE Gavin Escobar
Dallas fills a huge need at the backend of their improved defense with one of the best players at his position and backs up the brittle DeMarco Murray with a good pass-catching vet. In return, Buffalo adds another young, athletic weapon for EJ Manuel.
See how easy that was? If Mike Lombardi (and I) can do, so can the other 31 NFL GMs.