At the heart of the Trent Richardson trade yesterday is pure emotional outrage. The Cleveland Browns should have been an eight-win team this year according to yours truly. As most of you know, my mantra has been that for this team, considering the development time on the roster and the amount of cap space available to them, eight wins is the reasonable expectation I put on this front office and coaching staff. That was going to be my standard. All through pre-season—including a fourth game where basically every starter sat out so as not to get hurt—we were sold that this team was ready to go this year and compete. I should have known that wasn’t the case when they dumped all their kickers and went after six new faces before the first game, I guess. It’s hard to believe that this team after only the second week of the season and a franchise-altering trade is an utter failure according to the standard I set.
Even beyond my standards, pro sports teams rely on fans and this seems so original and unheard of—trading a supposed franchise player after week two—that it comes off as abusive to a Browns fan base that’s seen far too much painful originality in their day. The move of trading one of the most popular players on the team—a guy coming into his second year as the third overall pick in the previous year’s draft—is never not going to be a shock to any fan base. But this isn’t just a shock. It’s worse.
This move makes this fan base feel stupid. It makes this fan base feel stupid for buying jerseys. It makes them feel stupid for buying season tickets with images of Trent Richardson emblazoned on them. It makes them feel stupid for having to come to grips with the very serious threat that the 2013 season—something that they’ve looked forward to for a very long time—is over basically before it even started.
All those fears that I tried to talk people out of with regard to game day experience not being the sole focus of the team and how good entertainment and success on the field weren’t mutually exclusive is now suspended indefinitely. It’s suspended in the air as the team almost necessarily takes a giant step back right this second.
It’s not fair. That sounds childish to even type out, but at the heart of it, that’s what this is about. These new guys came in here and have shifted direction without warning. This is not what Browns fans were sold. This is nowhere near what Browns fans could have expected considering the off-season maneuvers.
And who is selling it? Joe Banner is great at not shirking accountability, but he’s presumably not the one doing all the maneuvers here. Michael Lombardi is nowhere to be found as the presumed architect of the very trade that happened. Instead, in his place on the podium is a first-year head coach staring two losses in the face with who knows exactly how many more waiting to wash over him over the next 15 football weeks.
Yes, when I’m being honest, I think the Browns got good “value” for Trent Richardson. You know why? Trading players about a year into their career isn’t ever done unless it is to dump them. In comparison to that, I think the Browns did get good value, but that’s only because this is such an outlandish maneuver. When you draft players you tend not give up on them before they finish their second year, especially in the age of the rookie wage scale. It is usually a failure of a player who is traded for a fraction of what was used to select them. So from that perspective I am truly shocked that the Browns got a first round pick for Trent Richardson. But I’m not nearly as shocked by what they got as I am that they were shopping him at all.
It might be the best thing this franchise ever does, but it still stinks. Sure, the Browns might end up getting the franchise quarterback, which is without exaggeration the most important position in Cleveland, but it stinks right now because they might still not get that guy. And it is not what Browns fans thought was in store for this season. It’s not what Browns fans deserve by any stretch of the imagination.
This was one of the culmination types of years that comes after years of rebuilding. This was supposed to be the start of smelling that cake that’s been cooking in the oven for so long. Instead it appears once again that there’s no dessert coming anytime soon for Browns fans. A new chef is in the kitchen and he’s promised something tasty, and said that he needs to earn our trust, but he’s started earning it by throwing away the cake in the oven before it’s finished rising because he can seemingly see it’s already not good enough. How does he know that it’s no good if we haven’t even tasted it yet?
And what does he know about “good enough” for this fan base? What has he earned in terms of political capital and leeway? He’s asking for faith from the very people he’s making faithless. He’s pitching this to the very fans who’ve seen the clearing of the house which takes place from regime to regime in Berea, but this wasn’t supposed to require that. Why else would they spend money on the defense this season?
So the ones who are sticking around will sit and wait yet again to see if these are people worth believing in. They’ll sit and try to decide if the very people who put Trent Richardson’s mug all over their 2013 season tickets before trading him only two weeks in are the kinds of people who can make enough good decisions in a row to not let another generation of Browns fans die off and / or become Steelers fans.
Maybe they got it right. Maybe they’re brilliant and this will culminate in a Super Bowl victory someday, but shut up with that stuff right now. If you say those things loudly enough – no matter how true they might be – the folks in Berea might hear you and think they’ve achieved something by acquiring a nebulous asset. These guys haven’t earned that kind of benefit of the doubt merely by engaging in a speculative investment scheme that is the NFL draft.
The only ones who have earned the benefit of the doubt here are Cleveland Browns fans who continue to show up and support a pairing of colors that’s supposed to represent a team they love. These might just be the latest guys who are taking that for granted while they waste our time before getting fired and replaced. We have no way of knowing they aren’t failures and their initial performance hasn’t given any reason to think otherwise.
Trading Trent Richardson after the second week of the 2013 season might not be a bad move, but make no mistake, these guys are on notice and we shouldn’t let them forget it.
They’ve earned nothing. Remember that.