By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
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BEREA: The Browns sent shock waves through Northeast Ohio and the NFL on Wednesday evening by trading running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a first-round selection in 2014.
The deal is easily one of the biggest and most stunning blockbusters in team history. It trumps the Braylon Edwards trade as the most significant move since the expansion era began in 1999.
“This wasn’t something negative about Trent as much as it was the value that we think we got in terms of what we feel we need to do to move the franchise forward and get it to where we want it to be,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said Wednesday night during a news conference. “And we thought that positioned us well to do that.”
The Browns already have paid Richardson $13.8 million, but they saved $6.6 million in future payments by trading him.
The move signals the organization’s new regime is in a total rebuild mode as it collects ammunition to reconstruct the roster — and likely pursue its quarterback of the future — in next year’s draft.
“I don’t want to tip our hands on what we’re going to do or prioritize in doing, but I think it puts us in a very good position to have made some real progress with the team in this offseason, to be in very good cap shape going into next season,” Banner said. “We’ve accumulated those picks and we’re positioning ourselves to build the kind of team that is good at the sustainability we talked about.”
The Browns now have 10 picks in the 2014 draft, including two first-round selections and seven picks in the first four rounds. In April, the Browns traded fourth- and fifth-round choices to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Colts, respectively, for third- and fourth-round selections next year. The Colts finished 11-5 and made the playoffs last season, and if quarterback Andrew Luck continues to shine, the Browns probably will receive a pick in the 20s in return.
The Browns have their keys to building a Super Bowl team painted on a wall in their ultra-secure draft room. Near the top of the list is the following sentence: “We will have a championship level QB.” They clearly don’t believe Brandon Weeden, whom the previous regime selected 22nd overall last year, fits the description.
When asked if the Browns will try to trade Weeden, Banner said, “We’re not looking to make any additional trades, so I don’t really want to get into that speculation.”
Because the Browns dealt Richardson and elevated quarterback Brian Hoyer from third on the depth chart into a starting role while Weeden recovers from a sprained right thumb, the perception is that they’re giving up on this season and looking forward to having their pick of promising quarterback prospects when the draft begins May 8.
Banner tried his best to defy the notion the team is tanking to get a high pick.
“As we keep playing, I think people are going to see that we’ll continue to play hard and prepare and do everything we can to win every week,” Banner said. “The coaches will do everything they can to support that. I think they’ll see as we go out on the field that that’s not the case.”
Banner said the Browns will bring free-agent running back Willis McGahee to Cleveland for a physical Thursday. The team plans to sign McGahee if he passes the examination.
The Denver Broncos cut McGahee, 31, in June. Going into this season he ranked fourth in the NFL among active players in terms of rushing yards since he entered the league in 2004, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2011.
McGahee failed to attend any of the Broncos’ voluntary practices in May. He hasn’t played since Week 11 last season, when he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and fractured his lower right leg against the San Diego Chargers.
The Browns have only two running backs on their active roster, Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey. Ogbonnaya is listed as the top fullback, though he has played tailback throughout his NFL career.
So with Richardson heading to the Colts and Weeden injured, the Browns have lost their starting running back and their starting quarterback in the same week.
“That’s football,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “You deal with those things whether they are injuries or a trade in this case. You work your way through the season and, like I said before, I believe in this group, I believe in the guys in the locker room and I believe the next guy will step up, and we will find a way and do what we need to do to win.”
Banner said the Browns began trade talks with the Colts on Tuesday. General Manager Mike Lombardi spoke to Richardson after the trade was made, Banner said, but Chudzinski hadn’t done so when he addressed reporters shortly after 7:30 p.m.
Chudzinski said he contacted the team’s captains — Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson — and broke the news to them.
“They were surprised at first,” Chudzinski said. “But they understand the business of this and that, ‘Hey, we need to go.’ It doesn’t change anything from an expectations standpoint for us.”
The vast majority of Browns fans were bewildered.
“I just think we have to earn their belief and trust in the decisions we are going to make as a group,” Banner said. “And I don’t expect them to trust that until we prove the trust is well placed. So I understand the skepticism for now. But we have to do what we think is right and move the franchise forward and get it to where we want it to be.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Richardson joins defensive lineman John Matuszak as the only players since the NFL merger in 1970 to become top-three draft picks, play their rookie seasons with the team that drafted them and then play for another team the following season.
“Didn’t see that coming,” Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor wrote on Twitter.
Last year, former General Manager Tom Heckert and former President Mike Holmgren traded selections in the first (No. 4), fourth (No. 118), fifth (No. 139) and seventh (No. 211) rounds to the Minnesota Vikings, so they could move up to No. 3 spot and pick Richardson, who starred at the University of Alabama.
Through two games this season, the 5-foot-9, 225-pound Richardson compiled 31 carries for 105 yards (3.4 average) to go along with seven catches for 51 yards. Last season, he tallied 267 carries for 950 yards (3.6 average) and 11 touchdowns to go along with 51 catches for 367 yards and a touchdown. In 17 games with the Browns, he had only two runs of 20-plus yards.
Richardson, 22, missed most of training camp last year and all four exhibition games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He made it back in time for the regular-season opener but suffered broken ribs in Week 6. He pushed through the pain the rest of the year until he missed the season finale with a high-ankle sprain.
But Banner said the trade didn’t have anything to do with Richardson’s history of injuries, and Chudzinski said it wasn’t related to Richardson not fitting his offense well.
Before the trade was announced Wednesday, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said Richardson has what it takes to become elite.
“Yes, he has the intangibles,” Peterson, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, said during a conference call. “He’s got the tools. It’s going be about continuing to press and his mind-set.”
Now Richardson will be pushing forward with another team.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at . Read the Browns blog at . Follow him on Twitter at and on Facebook .