Published September 20, 2013
Like most people, I was shocked to hear the Browns had traded Trent Richardson, the third overall pick of the 2012 draft, to the Indianapolis Colts. I didn't think much could surprise me in this league anymore, but you just don't see trades like this happen these days. Especially with such a marquee, so-called franchise player like this, only two games into his second season.
But it happened. And the reaction in Cleveland, and everywhere really, was swift and one of confusion.
Why would they do this?
What kind of message does this send to the fan base? Is this just another example of what appears to be a perpetual commitment to rebuilding in the city of Cleveland?
What does this say to the other players in the locker room, who, even though no one seems to give them a shot, are still playing for something? They have games to win, contracts to chase, pride to maintain.
Wasn't this player the future of the program?
Are they throwing in the towel already?
Not so fast.
When I heard statements from Browns' camp saying Richardson just didn't "fit in" with their offense, I knew there was something bigger going on there. How does a guy like that not fit into any offense?
Physically, he's about as gifted as it gets at the running back position. Some may question his vision and big-play ability, but I've seen this guy operate. He's a specimen. For years, Norv Turner's fingerprint as an offensive play-caller has been to run the ball effectively and take shots down the field. He's one of the best play-callers in the game, in my opinion. Offensively, Richardson is a perfect fit.
Maybe he's just not a fit with what the Browns are trying to accomplish organizationally.
It seems strange to say a fresh start is needed for someone who's beginning his career, but that might be the case here. Guys get drafted all the time to places they just don't want to be.
I can't speculate about what's in any one person's head, but when a player enters the league wearing headphones incessantly, shows up late for treatments, and makes little effort to engage with his teammates, he can quickly develop a reputation for being insular and high-maintenance.
It can be perceived that he isn't happy and that he's not making an effort to buy in. I've seen this happen countless times, especially in today's head down, keep-things-to-yourself culture.
Generally, you hope the player grows out of that coming into his second season, especially when there's been a complete regime change and everyone is expected to prove themselves all over again. Some players buy in, and some don't. Buy-in, even if it's just perceived, goes a long way. You have to be willing to show you want to be part of the team.
I have no idea what took place during Thursday morning's team meeting in Berea, the first since the trade was announced the previous afternoon. But my sense tells me a message was sent, loud and clear, even if nothing was spoken: No one is guaranteed a spot on this team. No one is bigger than the team. If you don't buy in, you don't belong on this team.
Both teams won on this deal. The Colts got an incredibly skilled back to complement one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. And they have a coach in Chuck Pagano who has a fantastic reputation for reaching his players and getting the absolute best out of each and every man in his locker room. Their future was already bright, but their team just got better now .
The Browns will be able to stockpile some high draft choices, which is one of the best ways to rebuild a team and establish long-term stability, especially in light of today's extremely salary cap-friendly rookie contracts. Their team may have gotten a little worse in the immediate short-term, but their future just got a whole lot brighter.
As a player and fan in Cleveland, I'd be incredibly frustrated with what seems like a forever rebuild. But this time - and I know this may sound crazy - I think there's reason for optimism. Allow me to repeat what I've heard so many times out of Cleveland: Just wait 'til next year.
And I hate saying that for all the guys who deserve to win now.
Philly has a sustainability problem
Count me as one of the many who was really looking forward to seeing Philadelphia's new-look, high-speed offense. It's fun. It's exciting. It shows flashes of utter dominance. And I don't think it's sustainable.
The number of plays this offense hopes to get off and the rate at which it hopes to do so is going to wear down this offensive line over time. It's much easier to work at that pace with a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds. But beat-up grown men with bad backs and aching knees, many of whom have kids and don't even catch a break when they get home from work? Not quite the same.
And defenses will quickly become less shocked by the pace of this outfit. It will actually get much easier for a defense to trade punches with Philadelphia's offense because they have the luxury of constantly swapping their defensive line in and out of the game. So when you match up a tired, worn-down offensive line with a fresh pass rush, you're left with a quarterback who can oftentimes be completely exposed.
I'm not calling this the end of an experiment just yet. But I expect to see things slow down considerably. That, or we can expect to see a different quarterback. And I hope I'm wrong, because I love watching Michael Vick in this offense.
Kudos to Matt Birk
I agree with Matt Birk's decision to overturn the one-game suspension of Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson. When Art Shell was removed this past off-season from his position as one of the two players' appeals hearing officers, Birk was jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA to replace him. Birk is a smart man, is well-respected by his peers, and he played the game. Recently.
Too often we see discipline imposed for on-field infractions from people who have either never played the game, or have not played for a long time. The game has changed dramatically, and no one understands the growing pains of such change more than today's players.
It's time the league begin to take more seriously some of the other, obviously more intentional hits that happen. It's near impossible to make the expected/required adjustments when making a tackle at full speed.
To me, while many of these hits are violent and perhaps against the rules, it's impossible to measure intent in most cases. But clearly there's an intent when a player dives at the side or the backs of another player's knees who's in a compromised position. It's also something that's still coached and encouraged across the league.
There's an intent there that's easy to recognize & measure. And perhaps it's time that is eliminated from our game.
For a hit like Goldson's last week against the Saints, which was clearly against the rules as written, it's impossible to measure intent on that particular play -- no matter how passionate you feel about it. And I'm guessing that's how Birk evaluated his first high-profile case. A penalty and fine? Sure. But a suspension that will hurt the whole team? Not warranted.
This is a game of physics and violence played at a high-speed. It's not easy for any player to adjust his trajectory angle in a split second, against a moving target. Most guys lower their heads, if even just a little bit, at the moment of impact. It's an instinct that in my opinion is nearly impossible to coach out of a player.
And here's a little secret that most of us meathead footballers don't want you to know: Almost all of us close our eyes just before the point of contact.
For those of you who disagree with me on this, try this little exercise. Go outside with a friend/kid/spouse/coworker. If you have a helmet available, wear it. Stand about 15-20 yards away from your partner, then run full speed in their direction as they throw a ball directly at your face. Any kind of ball. Then see what your reaction is. Head down? Eyes closed?
I'm not in any way arguing that we should let defensive players roam the deep middle of the field unchecked. Those days are over. But we all need to have a realistic understanding about the laws of physics, about instinctive behavior, and about what the job requirements are for a defensive player. For the most part, guys today are aware of the rules and want to take care of each other. That's a good thing. But they still have a job to do.