The idea of tanking in the NFL or any sport to obtain a higher draft pick is a repulsive idea that should make fans cringe. Thankfully, Jaguars’ coach Doug Marrone feels the same way.
With the 2020 draft results plenty scrutinized and NFL training-camp rosters mostly set, the Jaguars are already being targeted by oddsmakers and national media as favorites/prime contenders for the league’s worst record.
There’s nothing incredulous about connecting this franchise to such an unflattering distinction. The Jaguars are coming off two losing seasons, released several proven veterans this offseason, and currently have a roster where nearly 75 percent of the players are 25 or under.
Considering they’re mostly in a rebuild mode that Jaguars coach Doug Marrone or GM Dave Caldwell won’t publicly acknowledge, it’s not a reach to suggest the Jaguars are potentially in for a long year.
But here’s what has no place in any discussion about the Jaguars and the 2020 season: taking steps to lose for better draft position to acquire Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields or anybody.
For starters, the idea of any professional team tanking -- either by not trying to play their hardest, or putting inferior personnel on the field to increase their chances of losing to obtain the highest possible draft pick – is repulsive, indignant and demeaning.
Even if the Jaguars or any team gets off to a 2-8 start, fans that root for them to keep losing for this express purpose is also bad optics. It’s unbecoming and classless. It shows a lack of consideration of how athletes and coaches are wired, a lack of respect for the game, or any sense of fair play.
It’s disturbing how, particularly in the NBA, MLB and NFL over the last decade, this insidious concept has become a topic gaining considerable momentum. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admitted in 2018 to telling players, “Look, losing is our best option,” felt compelled to bring the hammer. He sent a memo to all 30 teams saying they would endure the “swiftest and harshest response possible” if deemed to be purposely trying to lose games.
The Houston Astros became a focal point for the advantage of tanking when the MLB team lost an average of 108 games for three years (2011-13). They were eventually rewarded for obtaining all those high draft picks with a World Series title in 2017, as if that crown doesn’t already have an asterisk in the court of public opinion for electronic sign-stealing.
And remember the 2011 NFL season, back when the prospect of picking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck elicited chants of “Suck for Luck.” In that instance, the 2-14 Indianapolis Colts were the eventual winner. They drafted Luck and immediately became a playoff team the following season, thus giving some media cause to continue pitching this ridiculous tanking narrative whenever a QB is the consensus top pick.
“Tank for Tua” Tagovailoa of Alabama was commonly heard among Miami Dolphins’ fans last year when they got off to an 0-7 start under first-year coach Brian Flores. To their credit, they rallied to go 5-4 the rest of the season, and wound up drafting Tagoavailoa anyway in the No. 5 slot.
The idea of tanking for a perceived savior QB has increasingly become a nauseating part of NFL conversation for fans of losing teams. Don’t even try to bring up that subject around Doug Marrone, unless you’re prepared to get an icy glare from the Jaguars’ head coach.
“[Tanking] is like an attack on the player’s competitiveness,” said Marrone. “If someone asked me that question, I’d take a deep breath before I answered because my anxiety level would go up fast. You don’t understand why someone would even ask that.
“People don’t understand that players and coaches are fighting for their jobs to support their families. If you do have that situation [where a team finishes with the NFL’s worst record], I can promise you a lot of people are going to lose their jobs. The concept might be out there, but it’s not reality in the sports world.”
What Marrone means is it’s not in his thought process because a bad performance, showing lack of total effort, or any suspicion about teams holding out impact players for the purpose of losing is an embarrassing topic. It would diminish a player’s reputation, as well as their market value to other potential employers, and it’s no less a negative impact on a head coach.
“Football is a physical game, so you’re just going to let someone physically dominate you?” Marrone said. “It’s not going to happen. If you start benching people to protect them for the following year [or obtain better draft position], that’s never even come into my mind.
“The players don’t care about next year. They’re trying to do the best job they can at that moment.”
Here’s another thing fans of NFL teams going through a bad season don’t get about tanking: there’s no guarantee that whoever is viewed as the No. 1 draft pick next year will be any kind of savior.
From 1970-2015, there were 21 No. 1 selections who played quarterback. Eleven of them made at least three Pro Bowls, including Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning. That’s a pretty decent batting average. However, eight No. 1 picks were either busts or significantly underachieved, while two others fell somewhere in-between.
Looking deeper, six other HOF quarterbacks in the modern NFL era were selected 14th or lower. In other words, a team could have a record slightly under .500 or better and have just as good a chance to hit the QB lotto jackpot. Or in the case of Hall of Famer Warren Moon, be an undrafted free agent who first had to earn his stripes in the Canadian Football League.
When the Miami Dolphins took Dan Marino in 1983, they had the 27th pick and had reached the Super Bowl the previous season. Brett Favre was the 33rd selection, Joe Montana (No. 82) and Dan Fouts (No. 84) both went in the third round.
Point being, tanking for the No. 1 position in the NFL draft isn’t the panacea fans think it is. Does it give teams a better chance of landing an elite player? Yes, but not so much better that it’s worth the misery of going through hell to obtain it.
On “The Last Dance” documentary about the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty, when Michael Jordan was asked during his injury-filled second season whether the team should just write it off, miss the playoffs, and hope for better position in the 1985 NBA draft, he angrily rejected the idea: “I hope not, that just shows a losing attitude. I want to win.”
That’s pretty much a mic drop about tanking from one of the most transcendent players in any sport.
So Jaguars’ fans, do you still think tanking for Trevor or flopping for Fields is the right path in 2020 to turning this franchise around? If so, then you have earned the right to be pitied. A team’s obligation is always play to win every game, and let the draft chips fall where they may.
firstname.lastname@example.org: (904) 359-4540