The Cleveland Browns are playing for the future and everyone knows it. All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas told the NFL Network "we are all on the trading block" while former Browns president Mike Holmgren ripped into the team for trading running back Trent Richardson.
Midseason player trades don't happen often in the NFL, but the Browns elected to part ways with the 2012 first-round pick in order to gain more assets for the 2014 draft. Cleveland recouped a first-round selection from the Indianapolis Colts for Richardson, and it's expected the team will use its selections to acquire a franchise quarterback.
Thomas's comments indicate the mood of Browns players at this time. It's only Week 3 and already there's the belief that anyone is expendable, especially the organization's top players. One Cleveland beat reporter echoed Thomas' sentiments about other players on the roster who were drafted by the previous regime potentially being up for grabs.
Trading away players like Richardson led Holmgren to tee off on the organization when he spoke to Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle.
"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 the we'll see who's still standing.' ''
The key issue inside the organization stems from the Browns' inability to find a franchise quarterback. Cleveland made an error during the 2012 draft when the front office underbid in a trade scenario that would have allowed it to draft Robert Griffin III instead of having to wait and select Brandon Weeden later in the round.
There was also an opportunity for the Browns to remain where they were picking and select Ryan Tannehill and Doug Martin instead of Richardson and Weeden. The former pair have emerged to become two of the top players at their position ... while Richardson is now in Indianapolis. There's no indication Weeden will start another game for the Browns.
Whether it's "tanking" or "punting on the season," Cleveland is playing a dangerous game. The quarterback prize in 2014 is Teddy Bridgewater out of Louisville, but there's no guarantee the underclassman will enter the draft. The Carolina Panthers found themselves in a similar position in 2011 following a 2-14 season, only to see Andrew Luck return to Stanford rather than enter the NFL early.
If the Browns continue to present themselves as a franchise willing to sell off their only assets, it won't paint the organization in a favorable light when it comes time for underclassmen to declare.
There are still 14 games and seven months until the 2014 NFL draft. That means there's still plenty of time to discuss prospects, but the lead-up to the NFL trade deadline could be more interesting than ever if Thomas' assertion is right that everyone on the Browns' roster is available.