By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The Browns’ locker room resembled a ghost town Thursday morning, but the few players who surfaced during the 45 minutes open to reporters tried their best to remain positive about this season in the wake of the organization trading running back Trent Richardson.
The new regime rocked the NFL on Wednesday by shipping Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a 2014 first-round pick. The move stunned Richardson’s teammates, angered the vast majority of Browns fans, prompted the Colts to gloat and caused Cleveland’s opponents to celebrate.
“Trent was going to be the face of this organization, high draft pick, much was expected out of him,” said Browns inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, the defense’s captain who offered Richardson words of encouragement when they spoke by phone Wednesday night. “He really hadn’t scratched the surface like he wanted to. He had a decent season last year, and everyone was ready for a breakout season. Now that he’s gone, I can see the frustration of the fans.”
Nobody could believe such a high-profile player would be traded only 17 games into his career and just two games into the season.
“Everybody was definitely shocked by it,” Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon said. “Everyone was in disbelief.”
All signs are pointing to the Browns trying to secure their quarterback of the future when the draft begins May 8. They now have 10 picks, including two in the first, third and fourth rounds.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in our leadership, our organization, the people who are making the decisions,” Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “And I think they have a plan for what they want to get done, and where they want to go. I think it’s going to end up being, in the long run, a positive.”
The players refused to believe the organization is giving up on this season and looking ahead to the draft.
“That’s not even realistic,” Jackson said. “In this business, there’s too much pressure on everyone to win, let alone put it on one guy. That just doesn’t happen. I can’t even fathom that.
“The thing we have to do in this locker room, guys like myself and other leaders, we’ve got to not miss a beat. I’m the first one to hate to see [Richardson] leave. But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. If we do, we’re not going to put a good brand of football out there on the field.”
The Browns signed Willis McGahee to a one-year contract Thursday after he passed a physical, his agent, Chafie Fields, confirmed before the club announced the move. McGahee, 31, is expected to step in as the team’s primary running back, although it’s unclear if he’ll play Sunday when the Browns (0-2) visit the Minnesota Vikings (0-2).
McGahee made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2011, but 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. The Denver Broncos cut him in June.
McGahee didn’t practice Thursday during the 30 minutes open to the media. If he doesn’t face the Vikings, the Browns will relay on Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey to handle running-back duties.
“I was shocked,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen told reporters while reflecting on the trade. “I’m not going to say I didn’t smile about it. Now I’m trying to throw darts at a board and see who the [Browns’] running back is going to be.”
The deal came together when Browns CEO Joe Banner began talking to Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson about Richardson on Tuesday. Colts running back Vick Ballard suffered a season-ending knee injury last week during practice.
“[Richardson was] mentioned, and we went right to work on it and did our due diligence on the Colts’ end and really liked the player,” Grigson said during a news conference. “I’ve always liked the player, and when it became a possibility, we had to at least investigate it.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano called Richardson a “rolling ball of butcher knives” and couldn’t believe it when he first heard the Browns agreed to the trade.
“Obviously, your ears perk up,” Pagano said. “There’s a certain amount of excitement level. You’re kind of like, ‘Are you being serious? Are you messing with me on this deal?’ ”
Richardson practiced Thursday with the Colts, and Pagano said he’ll play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Richardson said a friend called him Wednesday to alert him he had been traded and then he heard the news on the radio.
“It was a surprise,” Richardson said. “But at the same time, it’s another chapter in my life, and with that, I’m going to have a chip on my shoulder.
“For Browns fans, keep rooting for the Browns. Don’t give up on them. When they get over that hill, it’s going to happen. … I hated leaving Cleveland. I love Cleveland, loved being around them.”
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, though, wasn’t sad to see Richardson leave Northeast Ohio. The Bengals will visit the Browns on Sept. 29.
“We go to Cleveland next week,” Lewis told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I feel pretty good about that, a little better about that.”
Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton knows there is pressure on his men to keep the team from collapsing in the aftermath of the trade.
“I think it’s a challenge, and that’s what we’re looking at,” Horton said. “We embrace the challenge to see how good we can be. I think great defenses, and I’m not putting us in that category yet, they thrive on that kind of stuff of putting it on our shoulders.”
There won’t be any lack of challenges for the Browns this season. And just wait until 2014, when Richardson and the Colts visit Cleveland.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.