By blowing a 20-7 fourth-quarter lead over the Saints, the Buccaneers secured the top pick in the draft. Predictably, the Bucs claim that there wasn’t a whole lot of tankin’ going on. Even though plenty of key players were removed from the contest in the second half.
“I don’t think anybody tanked it,” quarterback Josh McCown said after the game, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “We played the guys we played to rotate guys in to give them a look.”
Not every player got the memo.
“The whole second half I didn’t play,” rookie receiver Mike Evans said. “They just pulled me because I was gassed. It was [the coach’s] decision.”
“I guess I understand why,” said linebacker Lavonte David, who also didn’t play in the second half. “We wanted to get everybody else some playing time or whatever. They told me I wasn’t playing the second half, so I just took it for what it was.”
Coach Lovie Smith didn’t make a very convincing case that he wasn’t trying to clinch the first pick in the draft.
“The guys you saw in the first half, the game plan was for them to be in there,” Smith said, via Stroud. “The second half, we wanted to look at some more football players. I think that’s not out of the realm of possibilities, to look at some other guys. We’re not going to the playoffs and we have a comfortable lead and we’re going to run the football.
“One win wouldn’t have helped an awful lot. We’re going to feel better when we’re winning our division. Until then, we don’t feel good about a lot except for knowing our roster a lot better and knowing the direction we need to go. If we had won today, we would’ve felt better about this game, but the season as a whole, that’s not where we want to be.”
While players will never tank, the coaching staff or front office can easily engineer a tanking via the decisions made about who will and won’t play. And it makes a ton of sense for the Bucs to hold the No. 1 pick. They’re now on the clock for the first selection, and they can stockpile draft picks and players if they eventually choose to trade the spot.
That’s why the league should have a draft lottery. Apart from minimizing the temptation to tank, it would give the NFL another made-for-TV event.