EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will play the Cleveland Browns at Mall of America Field on Sunday, and they spent the first two days of the week preparing for a team that likely would start Jason Campbell at quarterback and Trent Richardson at running back.
The team they face in actuality will use neither player.
The Browns announced Wednesday morning they would start third-stringer Brian Hoyer, not Campbell, in place of the injured Brandon Weeden, a move that had a grateful Leslie Frazier chuckling about how he'd rather find out now than at game time on Sunday. Then, on Wednesday evening, Cleveland traded Richardson to Indianapolis for a first-round pick, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.
Not only does the latter move take the Browns' top playmaker off the field on Sunday, it adds another interesting wrinkle to one of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's biggest trades.
It was Cleveland, you'll recall, that sent three additional picks to the Vikings last year to swap first-rounders with Minnesota, moving up one spot from No. 4 to No. 3 overall. The Browns drafted Richardson, and the Vikings got the player they were targeting anyway (USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil). The trade gave the Vikings an extra fourth-rounder, making it easier for them to part with their own fourth-round selection to move back into the first round and take Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. Kalil reached the Pro Bowl last year, and Smith looks like he could be headed in that direction.
The Browns, meanwhile, gave up three picks for a running back they decided to deal 17 games into his career. Richardson scored 11 touchdowns as a rookie, and it's not the Vikings' business what the Browns did with him after they took him, but the Browns-Colts trade does speak again to Spielman's ability to create a market for his assets. The Browns likely believed they had to move up to No. 3 to take Richardson, and in return the Vikings got the flexibility to deal back into the first round and pick up a starting safety in addition to the tackle they wanted. It's similar to what Spielman did in March, landing three picks for Percy Harvin (a receiver it seemed obvious the Vikings would trade at some point) and moving back into the first round to draft Cordarrelle Patterson after taking Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes with Minnesota's other two first-rounders.
With Harvin out for at least the first six weeks of the season, and Richardson gone to Indianapolis, the ledger looks like this: From the Cleveland trade, the Vikings got picks to take receiver Jarius Wright and safety Robert Blanton (who are still on the team), and had an extra fourth-rounder to help them move up and get Smith. From the Seattle trade, they got Rhodes and offensive guard Travis Bond (who is currently on their practice squad). In exchange for all that, the Vikings gave up Harvin and the rights to two picks that became Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw and offensive guard Gino Gradkowski.
Again, Spielman couldn't control anything that happened to the pieces he parted with in trades, but the fragility of the NFL so often rewards teams that are more willing to assemble pieces than pay dearly for one player. The Richardson trade was a reminder of that, and the fact the Browns won't have him on Sunday probably shouldn't be the only reason for Spielman to smile today.