Yes, there’s a time and a place for tanking

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts
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I’m not a believer in full-season tanking. But there’s a point where less success at the end of the season means more power in the offseason.

This year, the Texans won a meaningless Week 18 game over the Colts, with a touchdown in the final minute and a two-point conversion that sealed the victory.

The move, which added another number to the Houston win column (does anyone really know how many games the Texans won without looking it up?), gave the Bears the first overall pick. And now, with the Texans at No. 2, Houston will have to either trade up a spot or watch some other team leapfrog them to take the player they could have gotten, unfettered.

It really was a gift for the Bears, who weren’t expecting it.

“So I go into the locker room and [I swear] on my kids’ lives, my only thought process at the time was to just show appreciation for guys who fought through a really tough year,” G.M. Ryan Poles told Peter King for his Football Morning in America column. “I talked to all of them. Then someone pulls me aside and says, ‘Hey, Houston won. We got the first overall pick.’ I wasn’t even there in the mental space to think about it yet. . . . Then, that night, getting in the driveway at home, my neighbor drives by and yells out, ‘Hey man, congratulations on the first pick!’ And I was like, a little weird to celebrate this.”

It shouldn’t be weird. There’s real value in it. That’s why some teams tanks. Again, it makes no sense to set out to secure the No. 1 pick in September, like Dolphins owner Stephen Ross did in 2019. (He claims he was joking. The punchline has been even harder to find than Hoffa.) But the Texans absolutely should have found a way to gracefully, or otherwise, let the Colts win in Week 18.

Former coach Lovie Smith absolutely knows how to do it. In the last week of the 2014 regular season, Smith’s Buccaneers led the Saints by double digits. Smith removed roughly half the starters, and the Saints came back and won. That secured the No. 1 overall pick for the Bucs. (They got Jameis Winston, which arguably was sufficient punishment.)

Maybe the difference was that Smith knew he’d be back in Tampa for 2015, and that he either knew he’d be fired in Houston or suspected it was coming. Regardless, Smith did the first team he ever coached — the Bears — a huge favor by winning his final game as a head coach in Houston. It gave the Bears the top spot in the draft, and now the Texans will have to give up something significant to get what they could have easily had for nothing.

31 responses to “Yes, there’s a time and a place for tanking

  1. Regardless on the actual record; the top 4 draft picks should be put into a lottery for selection. Then they should rotate as if tied for subsequent rounds.

  2. Ross had the right idea. Cincy actually tanked and got Joe Burrow. Look at the guys they put on the field in their game vs the Fins. Tanking gets you Burrow. Or ask the Colts who won the suck for Luck contest

  3. Ross wasn’t joking. Flores was fired over it. Miami then got caught tampering with 3 different teams, too.

  4. Using a bottom 4 finish lottery, as suggested above, simply moves the tank job from a race to the worst record in the league to a race to finish 4th instead of 5th. The only way to cure tanking is to include every non-playoff team in the lottery with equally weighted odds, then reverse the order every-other round like most fantasy football drafts.

  5. The NFL needs to go to a draft lottery like the rest of pro sports. They all also need to end in season trading (or end it after only the 2nd month of season). How teams in hockey and baseball trade away their teams at the trade deadline to tank every year is a disgrace.

  6. Make a decision for once. Is tanking acceptable or is it not acceptable? IMHO, if your team sucks and has overpaid players who kill your cap, then by all means tank and get replacements for greedy players.

  7. Please explain how the Bengals tanked?
    They score 23 against the Dolphins in the last 5 minutes of the game to tie before losing in overtime and they won the last game they played against the Clowns!


  8. Tanking isn’t a thing. Tanking would get everybody fired just to reward the new coaching staff with high draft picks. Plus the free agents from the tanking team would get less money on their next contact due to the bad play that everybody just witnessed. No coach would willingly lose games because even if he doesn’t get fired, his record would hurt his chances for a future team to sign him. Tanking is just conspiracy theory & nothing more.

  9. NFL told us there is no such thing as tanking. Remember when it was totally normal for Hugh Jackson to lose 31 games and not get fired but then get fired mid season when the team is second place in the division once they used all those coincidental picks and free agents they picked up?

    NFL told us that it wasn’t a tank it was a “creative team building strategy”. It’s only a tank if the players lose on purpose, if you just happened to put in your worst players or hire a TV commentator with no coaching experience as your interim coach but they play their hardest, that counts as trying to win.

  10. Tanking is acceptable as long as the coaches and players on the field play to win but simply cannot. In other words, play your reserves and maybe be less aggressive but in a way that passes the eye test (like take old school approach rather than statistical odds, and most will think you really played to win). Just don’t deliberately call a bad game and have your players suck. Guys are competitive and most of the team is competing for roster spots or film for their next gig.

  11. The issue here is that it is not in the coaches’ best interest to tank. In the NFL, the guy who coaches his team to the #1 pick is rarely around to make that pick. The players won’t tank because that #1 pick might be the guy who takes his job

  12. Lovie is a mediocre coach. I’d say he deserves better. He screwed up a championship level team by sticking with the wrong QB—I believe the meddling GM was responsible for that, too. Lovie wasn’t trying to give Grossman a long term deal after the Super Bowl.

    I guess my point is head coaches might only have one chance at success (if that). Sure, they might get another opportunity to be head coach… but the odds are the roster won’t be good.

  13. Don’t forget when the J-E-T-S won a totally meaningless week 17 game & lost out on a once in a generation player (Lawrence) to the Jags; and they are still searching for a QB to this day.

  14. What they should do is adjust the ticket prices based on win percentage. If you’re paying to watch a two-win team ostensibly tanking, you should get a price break.

  15. some would argue that the Dolphins are still tanking. One of the worst run organizations in the league!

  16. It’s only “tanking” if you only play 2nd and 3rd stringers. And after your eliminated from playoff contention why not see what the backups can do

  17. When you start the season 1-7, its time for Tanking. If the Dolphins had tanked like Ross wanted (allegedly), they would have Burrow. Flores would still be coaching the Dolphins, possibly coach of the year at some point.

  18. pg33 says:
    March 6, 2023 at 2:42 pm
    Lovie is a mediocre coach.

    Lovie’s 2006 Bears went 13-3, made the Super Bowl (and lost to Peyton Manning) with REX GROSSMAN as QB, Muhammed, Berrian and Clark as receivers. I’m saying that was one of the greatest coaching jobs of all times!

  19. Disagree. Good teams and organizations rarely ever tank on purpose. They draft well or trade up. Reid’s Chiefs never tanked. Meanwhile the Jets and Browns are almost perpetually tanking mode. Colts sucked for Luck and ruined him. Bucs tanked for Jameis, he’s no longer with them. Over in the NBA, 76ers tanked for “The Process” and pretty much every player they got is gone except Embiid. They could’ve just traded up for him.

    The only successful blatant tank that I can think of in SPORTS HISTORY was the Penguins for Mario Lemeiux. The Spurs are rumored to have tanked for Duncan but there’s too much gray area as David Robinson was hurt that year with a serious injury and the season was pretty much lost by time he returned.

    Tanking is just bad for sports.

  20. Lovie knew he was going to be sacked regardless and exacted his revenge. My already-high opinion of him went up.

  21. There is a time and place for tanking?

    Great. Tell that to all the people who criticized the Sixers’ “Process.” If they agree with you here, then they’re hypocrites.

    Also, tell that to John Tortorella, who continues to will the Flyers’ inferior roster to a few extra wins here and there, keeping them drafting a generational talent this year.

  22. The NFL may wish to emulate the NBA’s method of determining draft order. It would necessarily eliminate tanking, but it would reduce the incentive to do so and result in more competitive games, improving the quality of product the NFL puts out on the field.

  23. Lotteries do not eliminate tanking. It hasn’t in every sport that has attempted this stupid policy. I’d be done with the NFL (as I did with the NBA) if they tried this gimmick. All these sports are about the fans. So you’re a fan and had to sit through a season where you’re team just doesn’t have the horses to compete. Then you sit through a lottery where a team that just missed getting in the playoffs gets the top pick and some others. Thus your team is left out in the cold and you wonder why is my team being penalized because they’re bad and those other teams are being rewarded for being better? Lotteries are dumb and don’t work. If a team has a terrible record they should be investigated. If found to have lost on purpose they lose their 1st round pick. THAT would end it. Enough with these fake lotteries. How did CLE (NBA) end up with the top pick 3 years in a row? Yeah, right.

  24. Tanking is a part of team building when mediocre teams are a crossroad in the middle of the season. Players and coaches don’t intentionally tank so the dirty job is left to GMs by trading away veteran players for draft values or benching starters, etc… Obviously fans don’t like seeing their team lose but when winning a meaningless game can ruin your draft order you’re going to think about it.

  25. Don’t see why the Texans would trade up to one. Only one qb will be gone IF the bears trade back. They may end up staying at one and drafting anderson

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