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In American football there is a word invented by the devil “tank”, which means: to lose on purpose to be the worst team of the season. What would a team gain by losing like this? I will explain this phenomenon, why it is possible and why it is the stupidest thing an organization can do.
The draft: competitive seasons without favoritism
The NFL is the most important professional football league in the world. Although, lately, many agreements have been signed with universities around the world to bring in foreign players, the roster of new players who enter to try their luck in this company is filled by students who play in the collegiate teams of U.S. universities. These collegiate players apply to the NFL to enter the draft. The NFL accepts some of them and makes them available for teams to hire. As crude as the comparison is, it is like when farmers show off their best cows at fairs to see who wants to buy them.
Evidently, there is a problem, everyone wants to belong to the best teams, the ones that won the Super Bowl or participated in the postseason. If the best teams select the best players, there would be an unfair competition, because the best team can become even more powerful and the tournament would be very boring (as it happens in the German or Spanish soccer leagues, for example). The teams order their turns to choose new players. It starts with the one who had the worst record and ending with the champion. The first to pick a player from the draft is the worst team. The last one to pick is the best and so on for several rounds.
Tank, the style of the mediocre
Now think about it. What if a team with a bad quarterback or receivers that struggles to win loses on purpose? Usually, during the season, it’s already known who the most talented players eligible for college football are. Everyone watches them on TV, recruiters do their homework and several realize that there is a very good player coming in the next draft. Losing on purpose is getting you closer to taking the next Payton Maning before another team gets him.
“Tanking” seems to be one of the best strategies to bring in good players. However, it is perhaps the worst thing in sports. If we bought into the idea that the NFL is a one star team, there would be no problem with this gimmick, but it’s not. There are eleven players on offense plus another eleven on defense, plus special teams receiving and kicking, not to mention coaches, assistants, etc.
Who wins after all?
One player does not win a game. This is a team effort. Each player has to do his job in order to win. To “tank” for three or four star players is naive. It gets even worse when we realize that, many times, the strategy to do this is to dismantle the team: sell all your expensive veteran players and make sure you have the inexperienced players on the field in order to lose every game.
What kind of mess do this organizations leave for the star they want to get? Tank is a culture of failure. It’s a culture of looking for the star that will lift a team designed to lose. A rookie and inexperienced player like Patrick Mahomes had succes because he went to a great team with an excellent coach.Tom Brady wasn’t even taken in the early rounds and they picked him all the way. Bill Belichick picked him, put a work culture into him and, as a result, he won six superbowl rings (now seven outside New England). Failure only breeds failure.
Negotiators and work culture, the best option
The truth is that everyone wants to hit the jackpot when they talk about the draft. However, there are other routes to success.
First of all, draft positions are negotiable. Before the drafts, there is free agency, which is when an organization makes agreements with its players, increases their salaries, gives them a contract for more years or trades them for other players. Among all these possibilities, there are times when a team prefers an experienced player and gives up its high draft pick for another team’s veteran player. In addition, someone may trade his spot in the first row for two consecutive spots in the second row. Putting together a good team is an art.
A team can be sure to get a good player without having been the worst team. That’s what Kansas City did, for example, with Patrick Mahomes. In addition, there is the way to generate a genuine culture. With what you already have, you work hard, you reinvent your style, you improve it. The rookie who comes to your organization will find logistic and a structure to develop his talent in the best way. Besides, players are different, a great player does not make a difference if he does not have the mental and physical characteristics required by your system.
There are no bad players in the NFL
Urban Mayer, a highly respected collage coach, said in an interview that there are no bad players in the college system or much less in the NFL. In his coaching career, it was forbidden to say that. Because that attitude just brings up an excuse for the failure. The important thing is to go deep into the problem and find out why some player at some position is not working or the team itself.
Mayer has found three problems behind the excuses they make for bad players. The first is a problem of trust; there is no trust in the team’s players, coaches or the player itself. The second problem is setting high expectations and not working hard. In other words, the work must exceed your expectations. Otherwise the results will bring frustration, anger and disappointment. The last one is a problem of egocentrism. Everyone in the organization must do his or her part. Sometimes it is the players job to score, sometimes to block for someone else to score. It is not about always shining and being the star.
This reflection by Coach Mayer totally contradicts the idea of doing Tank for a player. This offseason, it has been said that the Jets and Jaguars have respectively looked to be the worst team in order to take Trevor Lawrence in the next draft. Trevor has been a fantastic quarterback at the collegiate level and has high expectations to shine in the NFL. Fortunately, the Jets and Jaguars have shown that they are still playing to win. The Jets have even lost the first pick after winning two games against postseason contending teams.
He who tanks buys a hundred lottery tickets to see if he can accomplish anything. The one who drafts well and works hard is the one who refuses to wait for the miracle and works for what he wants. Eventually, the miracle may happen and one will be better prepared to receive it.
I wrote this opinion before the playoffs. It was interesting to noticed what have happened since then. First of all, Jets play till the end and never tanking. They actually won one more game. Secondly, Eagles tanking the last game, and now they are not necessary having a good free agency. The third thing is that Jaguars also tank for Trevor in some weird way. The last thing (and this is the most astonishing surprise) Jaguar hired Urban Mayer!
I don’t know what it is goin to happened the next season. I just can say… We are going to learn a lot about life and football the next season. I cat’n wait for it.