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Colts' smart, succinct rebuild laid the groundwork for Trent Richardson deal

(AJ Mast/AP) Smart draft picks like T.Y. Hilton put the Colts in position to acquire Trent Richardson from Cleveland and make a push for the Super Bowl this season. (AJ Mast/AP)

The Indianapolis Colts' rebuilding project, one brought on by Peyton Manning's injury and subsequent departure, more or less ended the moment they took Andrew Luck No. 1 overall in 2012. It officially ended Wednesday when they dealt away their 2014 first-rounder for running back Trent Richardson.

This is a franchise that believes two things: 1. That it can win the Super Bowl right now, this season; and 2. That it does not really need a first-round pick next May.

The reasoning behind both trains of thought are born from the work Indianapolis has done since muddling through that miserable 2-14 season. They hired Ryan Grigson as general manager almost immediately after that year wrapped, and he proceeded to mold the roster using all avenues available to him.

Grigson traded for CB Vontae Davis, FB Stanley Havili (a key piece in first-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's scheme), LB Kelvin Sheppard and others. He chased WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, OT Gosder Cherulis, NT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Ricky Jean-Francois and CB Greg Toler in free agency. And, most importantly, he made his draft picks count -- Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Bjoern Werner, Hugh Thornton.

Indianapolis was not as decimated as that 2-14 record would have you believe when Grigson stepped in as GM. Less than two years later, the Colts are a legitimate contender in a relatively unimpressive AFC.

This is a young roster, with most of its key pieces locked into place for years to come. It's not perfect -- the offensive line still needs help, as does the defense. Grigson could have utilized that 2014 first-rounder to bring in another building block, but the opportunity presented itself to add one overnight.

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Is there an element of risk here? Absolutely. A pretty substantial one, in fact.

For all his obvious talent and the hype he brought with him out of Alabama, Richardson is a relatively unproven NFL commodity. Though he totaled more than 1,300 yards last season, Richardson has a career yards-per-carry average of 3.5 and has struggled to stay healthy. Plus, there's this, as told to the NFL Network's Jeff Darlington by an anonymous Browns player: "Trent has some things he needs to figure out before he becomes a dominant player in the league."

The Browns opted to roll with the possibilities presented by a loaded 2014 draft class rather than wait for Richardson to become a star. They did not view him as a fit in their new offense or in their new approach.

The Colts do, and with good reason.

Richardson is an able runner, sure, but he also can get out of the backfield and catch passes (51 receptions last season). And the threat of him taking off with the football ought to be enough to keep defenses honest, thus opening up the field for Luck. Last season, Luck completed 63.7 of his passes (65-for-102) off of play-action, according to Pro Football Focus; he was at just 52.2 percent on straight drops. The Colts now can utilize those fakes more consistently -- and more effectively -- with Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw paired in the backfield.

Hamilton's playbook is built for a player of Richardson's ilk to carry the load. In his two seasons as Stanford's offensive coordinator, Hamilton helped produce rushing totals of 1,330 and 1,530, respectively, for Stepfan Taylor (the former came with Luck at QB). Hamilton wants to use his running backs often, in a variety of ways.

It appeared that he might have a chance to do so when Indianapolis brought in Ahmad Bradshaw to join Vick Ballard. Bradshaw, though, spent the entire offseason rehabbing after foot surgery, and Ballard just went down for the season with an injury of his own.

The Colts knew they could contend in the AFC South, possibly even on a larger stage. They also knew -- and owner Jim Irsay said as much on Twitter over the weekend -- that the backfield situation was unsteady.

Some may argue that it still is, at least until Richardson proves he can stay healthy and take off as a No. 1 back. For the Colts, the potential for him to pull that off was worth the high price tag Grigson had to pay to pry Richardson from Cleveland.

Indianapolis' GM can justify such a purchase because of everything he had done leading up to Wednesday's trade.

The Browns feel as if they have to focus on the future. The Colts' future has already arrived.

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