AFC North notebook: Browns start over after trading Richardson
By AARON WILSON and The Baltimore Sun
Sep 21, 2013 | 6:16 PM
The Cleveland Browns sent shock waves throughout the NFL landscape when they traded running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a 2014 first-round draft pick Wednesday.
The blowback of the surprising swap even reached as far as Colts coach Chuck Pagano's cellphone. Text messages piled up from former players, including from the division where the former Ravens defensive coordinator used to coach.
"All I know is, I got a couple texts from some players I used to coach and it was, 'Wow, congrats and thank you,'" Pagano said during Richardson's introductory news conference Thursday. "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."
Richardson, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2012 draft who finished with 950 rushing yards in an injury-plagued rookie season, certainly is not Willis McGahee. The Browns (0-2) signed the 31-year-old Thursday to a one-year contract as a stopgap measure, and the former Ravens running back could face his old team in November.
For the Browns' new regime of CEO Joe Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski, the trade is seen as a clear indictment of former team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert.
It's also viewed as a sign that, by trading arguably its best offensive player, the organization already has abandoned any hopes of a winning season.
Let go last season, Holmgren ripped the trade.
"I struggled with it," Holmgren, who traded up to acquire Richardson, told Seattle radio station KGR. "How do you make your team better by trading your best player? He's a valuable, valuable guy.
"To me, they're putting all their eggs for next season. They started off 0-2, they couldn't score any points. I think it was a knee-jerk reaction."
Banner defended the trade Friday, and avoided getting into a back-and-forth with a combustible Holmgren, who traded fourth, fifth and seventh-round picks last year to the Minnesota Vikings to move up to pick Richardson.
"Mike's entitled to his opinion," Banner said. "He ran the team for three years and was able to do what he believed in. It's our turn trying to do what we think is right. Obviously wouldn't have done this if we agreed with his comments."
And Banner refuted the notion that Chudzinski was against the trade, which should net a pick in the bottom third of the first round considering the Colts drafted 24th overall last season when they finished 11-5 and made the playoffs.
"I think the most important thing for me to say is we don't do anything with Chud not right in the middle of every discussion, every evaluation,'' Banner said. "Every single time I got off the phone with (Colts general manager) Ryan Grigson I went down, reported to him where we're at. He's a very strong believer in where we're at and where we're headed and how this is going to help us.
"I think the most important thing is for people to realize we're all on the same page. This is a collaborative decision that everybody in the organization, from the owner, myself, the head coach, everybody involved felt very strongly was a good thing to do."
The Colts hope Richardson, who was held to 58 rushing yards in a 14-6 loss to the Ravens last Sunday, can replace injured starter Vick Ballard (knee) and add balance to an offense led by quarterback Andrew Luck.
Richardson will still face questions in Indianapolis. Reports about his supposed immaturity have dogged the former Alabama star, and he apologized last season after publicly questioning former coach Pat Shurmur's play calling.
Richardson said at his introductory news conference that his shock over the trade is "starting to wear off, but it's still a shock. At the same time, I'm ready to open up this new chapter in life and I'm going to have a chip on my shoulder."
Richardson also urged Browns fans not to give up hope.
"For Browns fans, keep rooting for the Browns," he said. " Don't give up on them. When they get over that hill, it's going to happen. They got a program that's going to go in a good direction.
"With the fans, I hated leaving Cleveland. I love Cleveland, loved being around them. But like I said, I'm here starting a new chapter of my life."
In Cleveland, Browns players said the trade was surprising — and instructive.
"Everybody was shocked by it,'' wide receiver Josh Gordon told reporters. "We were in disbelief almost until we saw it on TV. This league is a business. At any given moment, anybody can go."
Former University of Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson acknowledged the despair the fans are feeling.
"Trent was going to be the face of this organization, a high draft pick, much was expected out of him," Jackson said. "He had a decent season last year. Everyone, including the fan base, was looking for a breakout season.
"Now that he's gone I can see the frustration of the fans. The diehard fans of Cleveland thought we had something in Trent. That's the ugly side of the business we can't control.''
The latest dramatic turn in the winless Pittsburgh Steelers' season came this week when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that wide receiver Antonio Brown had confronted offensive coordinator Todd Haley on the sideline last Monday.
Brown reportedly had lobbied to be targeted more during a 20-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Did not happen, there was no confrontation," Haley told reporters. "There was no problem whatsoever between he or I. When things aren't going good, and for things not going well, I thought those guys have handled it well."
What's undeniable, though, is the Steelers' (0-2) struggling offense.
Their 19 points this season are third fewest in the NFL. The Steelers are 31st in total offense and rushing offense and 27th in passing offense.
"I'm not happy with anything right now," Haley said.
How could he be?
"Nineteen points in two football games is not going to win a lot of football in this league," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "If you would have told me we would have scored 19 points through the first two games, I would have told you we would have had an opportunity to be 0-2."
Is the problem with the offensive personnel, Haley's play-calling or both? Tomlin didn't point fingers.
"There's been a problem with our functioning," Tomlin said. "There's been a problem with our production. There's been a problem with our points. You can point to whatever you want to point to in regards to that, and, obviously, if the plays aren't working well, then we're susceptible to that judgment."
Bernard a hit with Bengals
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard is emerging as a dangerous all-purpose threat for the Bengals (1-1).
The former North Carolina standout had 95 total yards against the Steelers and scored two touchdowns on just nine touches, and Cincinnati coaches said they expect to divide the workload more evenly between him and veteran starter BenJarvusGreen-Ellis in coming games.
Bernard is averaging 5 yards per carry, Green-Ellis only 2.8.
"I think they are going to get more to 50/50 sooner than later, probably," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "That's something I'm trying to figure out. Really, they complement each other."
With Bernard holding his own in blitz protection, Gruden now feels more comfortable leaving him in the game more often.
"We are obviously very happy with our running back situation the way it is," Gruden said. "Honestly, if Gio is in the game, I am content. If BenJarvus is in the game, I'm fine with either one of them in there. I don't have a problem."