Jan 9, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson (3) carries the ball during the BCS National Championship game agains the LSU Tigers at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE

Could Trent Richardson Be the Key to a Vikings Draft Day Trade?

Forget Ryan Tannehill. Forget Morris Claiborne. Forget Justin Blackmon. If the Vikings are going to trade their #3 pick on draft day, the key to making it happen will be Trent Richardson.

Yes there are multiple teams interested in Tannehill, including the Browns and Dolphins. One seemingly plausible trade scenario has the Dolphins swapping their #8 pick and others for the Vikings’ #3, just to get ahead of the Browns. Alternately, the Browns could get nervous about the Dolphins wanting Tannehill and trade up one spot with the Vikings. The Browns trade scenario would probably be preferable for the Vikings in that it would likely net them a second 1st rounder and still allow them to take Matt Kalil with the #4. Trading with the Dolphins at 8 would likely mean no Kalil for the Vikings.

The Tannehill scenarios are looking less likely with each passing day, however. The Dolphins may love Tannehill to death, and God knows they could use a young highly-touted QB to inject some life into their sad-sack organization, but the key to the whole thing is the Browns and they may not be looking at Tannehill at all. Reports early Friday suggest the Browns have someone else in mind for their #4 pick. And that someone is Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland notes that though the Browns and offensive coordinator Brad Childress are thought to be very high on Tannehill, both Browns GM Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur skipped Tannehill’s pro day to scout Richardson (and watched Richardson bowl over Browns running backs coach Gary Brown). Grossi’s article also cites the opinion of draft expert Dane Brugler, who believes Mike Holmgren’s best talent available philosophy favors Richardson over the QB.  Grossi also shoots down Mike Mayock who is on record saying the Browns “must” take Tannehill.

That’s all great, but for a trade to happen another team has to be interested in Richardson. That team is not the Vikings who already have Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. Rick Spielman can smokescreen that one all he wants; no one in their right mind will ever believe the Vikings have interest in taking Richardson over Kalil, Blackmon or Claiborne. Luckily, Spielman doesn’t have to whip out his poker skills on this one. There’s already another team with a high interest in Richardson that is in a favorable position to swap picks with the Vikings. That team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted this morning that the Buccaneers “love” Richardson, even though both GM Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano elected to skip his pro day. It has long been the consensus among Tampa area beat writers that, despite all the mocks sending Morris Claiborne to Tampa, Richardson would ultimately be the pick. The question for the Vikings is: how much do the Buccaneers love Trent Richardson? Enough to trade up to #3 to keep the Browns from getting him first?

There’s an obvious objection to all these Richardson-related scenarios. He’s a running back. Running backs aren’t worth what they used to be. A team may love Trent Richardson, but does that mean they’d be willing to give up extra draft picks just to have him? It’s a fair question. However, if any team might be willing to make such a trade happen for a running back, it’s Tampa Bay. Their free agent spending this offseason demonstrates a win-now attitude. If they think they’re one top-of-the-line running back away from having a playoff team? And Richardson is the only running back in this draft who has that kind of ability? They could very well pull the trigger. Which would be very good news for the Vikings, because not only would they get an extra pick or two from Tampa, they would also be able to still take Matt Kalil #5 assuming he didn’t go #4 to Cleveland (highly unlikely with Joe Thomas in town) or someone who made a trade with Cleveland.

The Richardson-Tampa scenario is probably pretty far-fetched, but in my mind it’s not as far-fetched as the Browns moving up one spot for Tannehill just to fend off Miami. Right now, I’d say the Vikings’ best shot at pulling off the trade is to swing a deal with Tampa. But if I were betting money on what will actually happen, I’d still put it all on the Vikings not making a trade and taking Kalil. We’re still a month from the draft though, and a lot can change.

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Tags: Matt Kalil Minnesota Vikings Ryan Tannehill Trent Richardson

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