Former Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren blasted the team Thursday, questioning why it would trade second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts and saying he would quit if the same move happened while he was a head coach.
"How do you make your team better by trading your best player?'' Holmgren told Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle, according to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. "He's the best offensive player. He's a valuable, valuable guy.''
Holmgren was the reason Richardson initially landed in Cleveland, as he traded up a spot in the 2012 NFL draft to take the former Alabama star with the No. 3 overall pick. Holmgren eventually was let go at the end of last season by new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner.
On Wednesday, Richardson followed him out the door in a surprising trade with the Colts that landed Cleveland a first-round draft pick in 2014.
Like many Browns fans, the move left Holmgren scratching his head.
"I struggled with it,'' Holmgren told the radio station. "Philosophically, if I am the coach and someone came in anywhere and did that, I'd say, 'OK, fire me, or I'm going to quit. Or we're going to both go into the owner and talk about this and then we'll see who's still standing.'"
And if a general manager told him he was making the trade?
"I'd shake hands and walk. I would," Holmgren said. "Because if I disagreed with it vehemently, and I couldn't buy in, I mean, I'm not saying I'm right, I'm saying that's what I would do, because you have to be true to yourself in this business.''
Despite playing part of the season with two broken ribs, Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. He had managed just 105 yards and no TDs through Cleveland's first two games of 2013, both losses.
Banner said Wednesday the trade was not reflective of anything negative about Richardson, and that the team simply seized an opportunity to improve with the trade. The Plain Dealer reported the team had initiated the trade, citing league sources.
Holmgren said he thinks it will be difficult for Browns players not to think Cleveland's front office is giving up on the 2013 season.
"You can't tell me some of those players aren't asking some of the questions you and I are asking,'' Holmgren told Sports Radio 950 KJR. "They were friends with (Richardson). It's too wild. This sort of thing doesn't happen, and it happened, so asking questions about it would be natural.
"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 little bit of a knee-jerk reaction. There's a little bit of a 'what's going on?' I don't know this for sure but I can sense it."
One thing Holmgren does know for sure is that with Richardson joining star quarterback Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, the Colts' offense will be loaded.
In fact, Holmgren said he offered Indy general manager Ryan Grigson all of the Browns' draft picks last year to move up to the top spot and take Luck.
"I talked to him last year (at the owners meetings) before we made the trade (to move up and get Richardson),'' he told the radio station. "I said, 'I'll give you all of our draft picks for the No. 1 pick and I'll take Luck. I'll give the whole draft to you.
"I said, 'Ryan let's do the deal, right now, right here.' He said, 'We're taking Luck.' We were by the pool, I might've even had a lemonade in my hand. He didn't take me seriously, because I was ready to pull the trigger. They were going to take him, and they should've taken him. They did the right thing, but he said if some craziness would've happened, they would've taken Trent Richardson. And now a year later, they get both of them."
Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner also predicted Richardson would be an asset for the Colts.
"My deep-down reaction is I like Trent an awful lot,'' Turner said, according to The Plain Dealer. "I think, for him, this will be a real positive thing, because I think he's going to get an opportunity where they are as a team offensively that it's going to really showcase his abilities. A lot of times players' success depends on the situation they're in and the people around them. I think he's going to have an opportunity to be real successful."