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The Cleveland Browns traded running back Trent Richardson, the 3rd-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in 2014 yesterday.
The move shocked the NFL world, and appalled Browns fans who took it as a sign that the front office has given up on the season.
The Browns are tanking. That sounds awful, but it's really not.
They are making a bad team worse in order to get better faster. There's no shame in that. In fact, it's exactly what they should be doing right now.
In the NFL there are only a handful of teams that truly have no chance of contending. Even then, the league's institutionalized parity — where wealth is redistributed through revenue sharing, and talent is redistributed through the draft and the salary cap — ensures that the worst teams can turn things around in a year or two.
The Browns are one of those teams that has no chance of contending this year. They have no quarterback, the offensive line is bad, and there are no playmakers on the outside to make things happen. Richardson — while showing some promise — has injury issues and isn't some sort of perennial Pro Bowler.
Running backs have the highest turnover rate in the league, and almost no one gets picked in the first round anymore. Getting a 1st-round pick (that might be in the mid-teens) for a running back prospect with injury issues who only has middling stats is a steal for Cleveland.
Yeah, it'll make them worse in 2013. But it gives them a ton of flexibility going forward, especially if they want to trade up in the draft and pick Teddy Bridgewater — a quarterback prospect who everyone loves.
This is the year Cleveland should be dismantling the roster and stockpiling draft picks. You can call it tanking, but it's a far more rational plan than trying to win six games and delaying the process of rebuilding.
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