Tanking. Fire sales. Purging. These specific words and phrases describe a franchise exclusively looking to the future. We generally associate tanking with NBA franchises, but its prominence in the NFL is growing at a rapid pace as the premier way to rise from obscurity; successfully modeled in basketball. Is the grass greener on the other side? Is it worth it?
With the Jets demolition of their roster this past week, the talk of tanking is a big topic among NFL circles. What the Jets have done is unprecedented in terms of trying to tank before the season has even started. The Jets have literally cut every big name from their team. Vet LB David Harris, WR Eric Decker, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, C Nick Mangold, K Nick Folk, CB Darrelle Revis and WR Brandon Marshall. Other NFL execs are speaking out on it, one quipping that the Jets have the worst NFL roster he’s seen in a decade. If the Jets successfully pull off the tank job, they will be rewarded with standout USC QB Sam Darnold, a strong Heisman contender.
Generally, tank jobs are decided during the course of a season, as losses pile up and the realization that you need serious help from a certain player more than likely already targeted by team scouts and personnel. Bucs fans know this feeling all too well. The 2014 season was a disaster right from the beginning with Josh McCown at QB; though a tank job wasn’t intended from the start. Week 17 featured a rare 20-7 halftime lead over the Saints at Ray J for the two win Bucs. Lovie Smith came to a grim decision, keep playing the starters or pull them to ” get a better look at the depth?” The most common excuse to cover up a tank job publicly. The Saints scored 16 unanswered for a 23-20 win and boom, job complete. It was so terribly obvious, what Bucs fans left at the Pirate Ship actually cheered the 2nd half collapse for on the horizon sat two extraordinary QBs in Jameis and Marcus Mariota. Now, a few seasons later, the Bucs are at the doorstep of perennial greatness with a wide open window for success, massively due to #3 under center.
Former Colts GM Bill Polian says we should expect more of this in the future in the NFL. If anybody knows how to perform a tank job, it’s Polian. His 2011 Colts saw Manning go down to neck surgery and the talk of the future began. The conspiracy starts with the awakening of Kerry Collins from his couch to start at QB for Indy only to see him go down with a concussion, followed by Curtis Painter and the infamous Dan Orlovsky. With Manning’s future uncertain, the tank job was in order to get what everybody perceived as the next #18, Stanford’s Andrew Luck with the top pick. The tank job ensured the Colts a valuable QB for the next 15 years. Job complete.
We saw the Browns pull a quiet tank job last season. Not a good roster to begin with but expected to win a few games, Cleveland lost it’s K Patrick Murray early in September and signed a “who’s that guy” in K Cody Parker instead of free agent vet and longtime Bears K Robbie Gould; who was sought after by Browns SPT coach Chris Tabor. Parker would miss 5 FG’s and 5 extra points to help contribute to a 1-15 season and the #1 pick that brought them Texas A&M’s, Myles Garrett. Job complete.
Understand that tanking is not a player decision, but a front office screw job. Think about the movie Major League. Front office puts the team in position to fail, an idea unfathomable to modern day athletes of any professional sport. The NBA schedule is easy to tank with 30 games left compared to trying to tank a 16 game NFL season. What the Jets have done is rewritten the playbook on tanking. We shall see if it works out for them and the Browns as well. Tanking doesn’t always work out, a la 76’ers and Browns, but it seems to have paid dividends here in the Bay area and Indy, right? Go Bucs.