Thanks to last year’s controversial mid-season trade, the Indianapolis Colts now have two of the top three picks from the 2012 draft. First, obviously, is Andrew Luck. The second is running back Trent Richardson, who was drafted with the third overall pick by the Cleveland Browns. After 19 weeks, the Browns opted to send Richardson to Indianapolis; now he’s become the most scrutinized athlete in Indy not wearing a Pacers uniform.
Mid-season NFL trades are rare for a reason, and successful mid-season NFL trades are the unicorn of the sports world. There are any number of reasons (or excuses) for why this is the case. There are playbooks to learn, there’s timing and chemistry to build and there’s whatever baggage a player carries with him that made him eligible for trade in the first place (an iffy contract, attitude issues, etc). Consider two fairly recent examples: Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders or Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings. Each garnered its fair share of press but not a lot of wins. The most successful mid-season trade to date (according to the NFL’s website) was when the Dallas Cowboys traded Hershel Walker to the Vikings in 1989 for what later became a collection of Super Bowl winning players, such as Emmitt Smith.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson wasn’t trying to “rent” a player for a single season; he acquired Richardson with a long-term vision. Maybe time will show that Richardson wasn’t a top-three caliber draft pick, but the Colts have a history of ringing talent out of people (and hopefully this will include a reinforced offensive line).
This week the team is returning to Indianapolis for offseason conditioning. While some players blow off optional activities, there’s a buzz of enthusiasm around the Colts’ locker room up and down the roster, and Richardson’s no exception. In an interview posted on the Colts’ website, he describes how he “gets” to learn the offense this year over the course of four months instead of four days and he “gets” to build a relationship with his teammates. Over and over, he used the phrase “gets to” instead of “has to.” It’s a small difference but a significant indicator of positive attitude. He seems to be saying all the right things and embracing the clean slate of a new season.
Richardson has had to learn three offenses in the past two years. It’s not hard to understand how a terrible early start would get into his head. He was thinking about what he was supposed to do, hesitating and second guessing his actions instead of relying on instinct and muscle memory. Without ever requesting a trade, he spent about thirteen weeks living that nightmare where you’re supposed to take a test you haven’t studied for, except when he made a mistake, he got tackle-crushed or benched. With a full offseason of repetitions (and a full season under the influence of a positive locker room), he could reinvent himself and prove he deserved to be the third overall pick. A little adversity galvanizes and reveals a player’s true character; it would be unfair to give up on Richardson too soon.