Let’s begin this with the declaration that trying to determine who won or lost a trade involving a girth of draft picks shortly after said picks are made is at best a foolish practice, and at worst an exercise in producing a narrative. No matter how highly touted a player is, it’s impossible to confidently predict his future, especially the future of the most recent draft picks who haven’t participated in a single practice.
So we’re not doing that here with last year’s blockbuster trade between the Falcons and Browns that was officially completed over the weekend. Instead, let’s ask a different question. If Cleveland didn’t make that trade with Atlanta last year which allowed the Falcons to jump up 21 spots to take Julio Jones, how different would their team look now?
The answer inevitably leads to another question: are we confident that trade will benefit Cleveland in the long run, despite the massive haul that included five picks?
In short, if he didn’t swap with the Falcons, we can only assume/hope that Browns GM Paul Heckert would have selected Jones, the wideout who had 959 receiving yards and 73.8 yards per game during his rookie year despite being slowed by a lingering hamstring injury. Jones missed four games.
It’s doubtful that the presence of Jones alone would have led to a significant rise in wins for the Browns during the 2011 season. The running game was still a mess and Jones would have been receiving passes from Colt McCoy, while Phil Taylor (the Browns’ first-round pick last year after trades with Atlanta and Kansas City) would be removed from a front seven that allowed 147.4 yards per game on the ground.
So if we assume the Browns still would have sucked and hovered around the four-win total, Trent Richardson is likely still a Brown now too. Paired with Jones, he’d provide Cleveland with a lethal wide receiver-running back combo for the next decade. Cleveland wouldn’t have Atlanta’s first-round pick to take Weeden at No. 22 overall, but given the lack of needs at quarterback among the remaining teams in the opening round, there would have been a very realistic chance Weeden was still available on Day 2 at No. 37 overall when the Browns were on the clock in the second round. Instead that pick was used to take offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
The specific pieces of the Jones trade are detailed by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, who quite accurately notes that there’s far more murkiness than clarity surrounding last spring’s major transaction at this point. The deal also includes Greg Little going to the Browns, a wide receiver who looks like a consistent if not spectacular threat who had 709 receiving yards last year, and fullback Owen Marecic, who will lead the way for Richardson. The Falcons’ fourth-round pick that went to Cleveland was used as sweetener in the deal with Minnesota Thursday night to move up a spot and secure Richardson.
The success of the Jones deal and the jobs of every major front office decision maker in Cleveland hinge on Weeden’s ability to transition effectively into pro football. He’s a player who almost surely would have been waiting 15 picks later in the second round, making the Jones trade unnecessary and useless in the franchise’s goal to improve at quarterback and build a competitive and respectable offense.
No pressure, Brandon.