Potential pitfalls of tanking in the NFL

The Browns’ trade of Trent Richardson to the Colts for a first-round draft pick was an interesting move to say the least.

Richardson has not been a slam dunk, top-five pick quality guy for the Browns so far, so it’s very possible they sold high (not that the Colts’ pick is likely to be in the top 10). I know on draft day there was actually some frustration among fans they had to pick him when he was there last year because he was the best player available and drafting running backs in the first round has gone out of style, but after draft day that really loses most of its importance.

After draft day, all that matters is who on your roster can play.

I know there is a line of thinking that says being only kind of bad or event decent is pretty much a waste of time in the NFL, but I’m not sure if that is true.

Sometimes starting over causes more headaches than can be accounted for. By that I mean it can create a total number of issues that becomes too hard to deal with in the increasingly short windows of time now allowed to build a team in the NFL.

Everyone has issues every year, even the Super Bowl champions. There are no super juggernaut teams, particularly now 20 years into the salary cap era with the rosters still ridiculously small.

The thing about changing regimes is it can turn some aspects of a team that were a strength and turn them into a weakness before the pre-existing weaknesses are fixed. That makes the product worse overall. I know some believe that might not be a bad thing, but I’m not so sure.

There is so much parity in the NFL taking an all-or-nothing approach can be very dangerous and counterproductive.

So many games could go either way, often there is not much difference between 10-6 and 6-10 other than a couple of bad bounces or poorly times injuries.

That is why a couple of years ago I began to wonder if taking the long approach in the NFL is the wrong way to do it. I’ve come to believe prudent way to run an NFL franchise is to treat each season – each game, really – like a chance to win. So many things could go wrong between now and next September, it’s hard to put too much faith ever getting there even while things slip away now.

That doesn’t mean run your players into the ground or ignore the salary cap, mind you, but don’t give away assets unless you’re really getting something in return.

As much as it makes sense to leverage now for a better future, I have never been able to bring myself to root for a team to lose in order to get a better draft pick. No matter what my brain might have told me in week 14 about the difference between the first and fourth pick in the draft, I always wanted to see the Bengals pick up that third win of the season in December if it was there for the taking back in the forlorn 1990s. Maybe that is another psychological phenomenon at work, but we’ll save that topic to explore another day.

Anyway, don’t over think this. One in the hand is still better than two in the bush in the NFL. Everyone is the same when training camp starts. Where a guy was drafted doesn’t trump if he can play or not, and the bottom line is you’ve gotta have more guys who can play than the other team to win.

Maybe this move will facilitate getting the franchise quarterback the Browns have lacked for so long, but those can be found outside the top 10 if you know where to look (see Green Bay and potentially San Francisco and Seattle for current examples), and it will be interesting to see how he fares if the team hasn’t found a suitable running back to take some pressure off him while he develops.

One thought on “Potential pitfalls of tanking in the NFL

  1. I really think it’s all over-examined.

    Regardless of how many picks you had when… the super bowl competitors are the ones who have had their draft picks and UFA’s pan out into good players. Look at the steelers – they had a run of no first misses for a while (Ben, Miller, Polamalu, Woodley) and they were contenders and multiple winners. Then starting with Mendenhall their first round picks have been mediocre, and they’ve fallen similarly.

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