In Houston, it’s beginning to look a lot like tanking

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans
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The Texans’ decision to pivot from quarterback Tyrod Taylor to rookie Davis Mills has a clear benefit. By losing, the Texans win.

Already 12 games into a lost season, winning any, some, or all of the next five games means nothing. Rising as high in the draft order as possible, in every round, does.

It’s an obvious disconnect that the NFL would prefer that fans and media ignore, because the league office wants everyone to think that every team tries to win every game it can. Then, just weeks after the season ends, those teams with a higher degree of dibs when it comes to picking players have the ability to secure their future by making the pick or trading it away.

The temptation to tank is real, without question. (It’s one of the many chapters in Playmakers, which will be released on March 15 and is available for preorder.) Players don’t try to lose, clearly. The teams instead deploy lesser players, under the guise of “evaluating” them. Sometimes the coach is on board with it, sometimes he isn’t. Even if he isn’t, what’s he going to do? Blow the whistle? Good luck with that.

In Houston, coach David Culley is on board with the decision that he surely didn’t make.

“I felt like [Mills] gives us the best chance to win,” Culley said Friday. In the short-term it doesn’t. In the long term, it definitely does.

Until the league removes the clear incentive to finish as low as possible in the standings in order to land as high as possible in the draft order, the temptation to tank will remain. And it will undermine the integrity of the game — and possibly the integrity of the ever-growing legal wagers on those games.

For Houston, the announcement that Mills will be the guy for the balance of the season allows the oddsmakers and bettors to adjust accordingly. The situation becomes far more problematic when, as the Buccaneers did in the final game of the 2014 season, plenty of starters were benched after Tampa built a double-digit halftime lead against the Saints in order to ensure that the Bucs would lose the game, and in turn win the rights to Jameis Winston.

It doesn’t matter that Winston ended up not being the long-term answer at quarterback. What matters is that the Bucs knew what it would take to get the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, and they did what they had to do to get it. The Texans are doing the same thing, quietly hopeful to get the No. 1 pick if the Lions win one more game or, worst-case scenario, securing the No. 2 selection by losing to the Jaguars in a rematch of Houston’s unlikely Week One win next Sunday, followed by games against the Chargers, 49ers, and Titans.

51 responses to “In Houston, it’s beginning to look a lot like tanking

  1. I don’t know that there’s a John Elway coming out, but even if there was, Houston might pick the Ryan Leaf instead. Draft picks are only as good as the people making the picks. The #1 pick guarantees nothing. But if you remember when Elway did come out, he refused to play for Baltimore. That could happen again.

  2. Florio has said for years the NFL should have a draft lottery. The NBA started it to stop teams from tanking but many still do.

    If the NFL had a draft lottery, there would inevitably be a situation where a 10 or 11 win team misses the playoffs and would have a chance at the number one pick while another team under .500 wins a weak division and would be picking towards the bottom of the draft like the other playoff teams.

  3. It’s easy to tell when most teams are tanking but with the Jets it’s next to impossible.

  4. Team building is a marathon not a sprint. Every team has a down year on occasion. So when you do, use it to your best advantage. Long term thinking.

  5. A while back I thought the Pro Bowl should be worst team in the AFC vs the worst team in the NFC with the loser forfeiting its first round pick. Just so the players and coaches really tried to win. But it would also be a big disincentive to tanking the season when you realize you’re risking getting the pick at all.

  6. Who cares? If you’re betting on the game, you should be informed enough to understand they might be tanking. Tha casinos set odds accordingly. Some fans might be bummed that their team isn’t trying, but they probably understand the upside to tanking too. The only one really hurt is people going to the home stadium who have to watch a lousy game.

  7. If you haven’t seen the last three games the Texans played, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t see them, you would see that Taylor has been absolutely awful and it’s not because of the offensive line or the receivers. Now he’s hurt….again….and time to move on from him. It’s not tanking, they’re really that bad, with or without Taylor.

  8. Honestly who cares? It’s like people speeding. We all do it, we all know someone who does it, and no one is upset about it. I used to get annoyed at Bill Parcells when he refused to start Clint Stoerner or some other garbage qb over Vinny Testaverde when he was in Dallas. Okay, great. Now we’re 6-10 instead of 3-13 with a top 5 draft pick. Fans know what’s up. On top of that sometimes by playing those scrubs you do find someone good. A year later Dallas discovered Tony Romo under the same circumstances

  9. On here, it’s been looking like loser bloggers who have no sources, no respect, no intelligence, no entertaining qualities whatsoever. But you do you, sweetheart.

  10. The solution is simple: Draft lottery. With 14 teams in the playoffs, there are 18 teams. 3 groups of 6. Bottom 6 get three balls, Mid 6 get two, top 6 get 1. Hey it is another media event! How many thousands of people watch the NBA lottery?

    Playoff order determines the top 14 (just like now).

  11. Some years it’s worth tanking. This isn’t one of them. Not a good draft year for QBs. There are some good non-QB prospects, but you could put 5 or 6 in a hat and take any as a top pick. So for this year tanking is a waste of time.

  12. I doubt there is another Mac Jones coming out this year… Looking like a poor qb class this year… maybe they have a shot at Aaron Rogers or Russell Wilson BUT doubtful…
    I think most likely it will be Jimmy G!

  13. Every causal fan knew jamies and Marcus mariotta were not NFL Material let alone, #1 and #2 over all

  14. I dont think tanking is as big a problem as its made out here. There are a couple pretty obvious examples like the bucs game or the colts getting luck, but for the most part any tanking is subtle. Even this, tyrod Taylor isnt exactly Tom Brady getting benched for a 3rd round rookie that has already played some decent games this year.

  15. I wonder who makes the pick.. GM Nick or Jack E. That goes a long way on how successful the pick might be. It’s a total crap shoot, but Jack E’s tenure has led and continues to lead an avalanche of continued and utter failure.

    Credit to Watson the football player for finding his own succès despite. Watson The person is tbd

  16. Yeah, it’s funny. Despite popular opinion, Houston wasn’t tanking until maybe now. In the offseason, they signed a huge bunch of veterans and they actually have one of the oldest teams in the league. Almost no young prospects. Maybe they were hoping Watson would pay off all his victims and they would get back to semi-normal in weak division. But both Titans and Colts are pretty good, so too bad.

    It reminds me a lot of Al Davis in his late desperate days where every season it was a different set of old mercenaries.

    And I’ve always rooted for Taylor because the guy could never get a fair shot to prove himself. Hopefully he turns into one of those guys who makes millions holding the clipboard.

  17. I am not sure if I would call this tanking. Tyrod Taylor is not exactly lighting it up and he isn’t the future for this team. Why not look at Davis Mills and see what they have in him for the rest of the season? It’s only smart. Like another person has stated in the comments, there is no Joe Burrow or Andrew Luck coming out. So I am not sure who they would be tanking for.

  18. So they lose every game Tyrol Taylor plays, that’s OK. They have a rookie QB whom they drafted, that’s tanking?
    So the Jaguars, Jets and Bears are all tanking too.

  19. Not a great year to own the No 1 overall. So this is hyperbole. Texans also currently the 3 so it’s not as if they are in pole position for the 1. The cupboard is just bare.

  20. It’s part of the way games are played. And the draft order is made to keep things even. I don’t care about what happens with betting. If the league starts making rules to keep gambling houses happy, things will get really weird really fast. Don’t go there.

  21. The NFL draft order is the single most overrated thing in sports. The bad teams always pick first, the good teams always pick last, and we act like it matters that (insert bad team here) has found their franchise QB.

  22. Is it really tanking? You’re evaluating what you have in a lost season. What are they supposed to do continue to trot player who have no future with the team?

    While there are teams that do actively tank (IND with Luck). Mills is a potential QBotF, they need to see if they roll with him or one of the QB prospects coming in. That said HOU is a mess I dont think they need much help to tank.

  23. Such is the reality of the NFL. If you disagree with it, don’t go to the games, or watch on tv.

  24. After all Houston has Ben through with Watson screwing them over after being given a mega deal I can’t say I blame the Texans. The sad thing is there is no Bonafide stud at qb but it’s still nice to have the first pick. Time to put the O’Brien debacle behind them and hopefully they can still get something for that deviant Watson.

  25. … or maybe they want to see what they have in Davis Mills… there is no clear cut college player that they would be tanking for…

  26. Darned if they do and darned if they don’t. If they lose, people scream that they’re tanking and demand accountability. If they win, people scream that they’re morons because it could cost them a rung on the draft ladder. Remember last season when the Jets had the audacity to compete for and win 2 tough late season road games? I’ve never seen a team so chastised for caring enough to compete and win

  27. Tanking? Gambling? What could go wrong? Maybe the gambling houses should exclude the bottom 4 teams at the 3/4 mark from betting lines for the remainder of the season. Let them tank away without affecting the, haha, integrity of it all.

  28. Tell me the last franchise altering player taken #1 overall.

    Manning in 98. Maybe you could make the argument for Luck if he didn’t get so banged up. Other than that the list of #1’s looks like a coin flip. 50/50 you get an impact player who makes it past his rookie deal.

  29. They can Tank all they want, nobody in Houston trusts this Crap Organization to make the right draft decisions because of the Stupid People they have in place making those decisions. They shouldn’t waste their #1 pick on a QB, since there isn’t one worth taking that high. Draft Hutchinson or Thibedeaux instead to get that Pass Rusher you need, and if you get another First Rounder for Watson, draft a shutdown corner.

  30. Bill tanked the Pats last year….he knew Cam would be hot trash but he gave the ILLUSION that he wasn’t tanking by bringing him in…. Even after NOBODY ELSE wanted him…. BRILLIANT!!!
    Ends up landing lower than he has in YEARS & gets his guy without giving up even a 7th rounder to do so……& he had millions in the bank to land all these key free agents…. look how it’s done people….
    Pats are 9-4 #1 in the conference… Covid was the perfect mask to cover his re-tooling of the franchise for ANOTHER 20 years!!!

  31. They drafted Mills to one day be the starting QB. And now he’s the starting QB. How is that tanking?

  32. Taylor is a great guy but Bills fans can tell you he was, during his time in Buffalo, one of the least effective starters in the league due to his fear of making mistakes. He hasn’t gotten better since then and isn’t as fast as he used to be. As such, Mills likely really does give Houston a better chance to win than Taylor. Mills will take some chances while Taylor is still throwing safe check downs on 3rd and long.

  33. The Texans have their QB for 2022 and probably 2023 in Davis Mills. Mills would be at the top of the QB list if he had stayed in college for one more year. The Texans will find out if Mills is the answer at QB before they draft another QB, unless it is a late round pick/UDFA.

    The Texans have their 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the Saints 3rd in 2022 draft, plus multiple day three picks. With a Watson trade the Texans could/should get at least (2) 1st’s and a 2nd in 2022. giving them (3) 1st, (2) 2nds, and (2) 3rds in the 2022 draft. The Texans will be able to select (2) OL and (1) DL in the 1st, (1) RB and (1) CB in the 2nd, and a couple of WR in the 3rd round, IMHO! This would give Mills a better OL, a rookie RB and a couple of WR’s to jump start the offense. Adding a DL/Edge rusher in the 1st, a CB in the 2nd, and then pick up more defensive players on day 3 of the draft, the Texans will have reloaded rather quickly.

    Culley will be fired, and the new coach will be able to get the Texans back to respectability next year. In the 2023 draft the Texans could/should have (2) 1st, their own, and (1) from the Watson trade, allowing them to select a QB if Mills shows he is not the future of the Texans with his play in 2022. If Mills is the answer and the offense is better, then they could address the defense in the first few rounds, completing the rebuild in two years and be back in the playoffs.

    But is McNair, Easterby, and Caserio the right folks to do this? We will find out.

  34. What’s with deshaun Watson? He just gets paid millions and millions for nothing? Why doesn’t he play? Wtf?

  35. longlivedansnyder says:
    December 11, 2021 at 12:11 am
    Every causal fan knew jamies and Marcus mariotta were not NFL Material let alone, #1 and #2 over all.

    Therein lies your problem, you believe that casual fans know more than professional football executives who have spent their entire careers evaluating talent.

  36. Beginning to look like tanking? They’ve been tanking ever since they realized Watson is serious about never playing for them again. What little talent they had was let go for draft picks (and not high ones)- Cobb, Ingraham, Mercilus, or found another way out. Cunningham forced his way out, Tunsil has been inactive with a “thumb injury”; I’m betting he doesn’t play another snap this year. Cooks started to complain publicly but was shut up.
    Lots of people are saying Davis is potentially a quality QB and they need to look at him – what do you think they were doing all those games he started? At this point he’s not a good QB – but he’s playing behind a terrible O line and no talent at the skill positions. How do you evaluate that?
    What little we seem to know about the owner and management doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in me. Letting top quality employees go because you don’t like their politics is not a good way to build an NFL team.

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