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Stat’s Corner: Preventing Tanking in the NFL

Eliminating the Draft for the Benefit of College Players

NFL: FEB 08 Super Bowl LVI - Super Bowl Experience Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL draft is finally here and a lot of content this week has been about which MWC players will be drafted and who will draft them. Stat’s Corner has a slightly different approach, eliminate the draft. No, I am not kidding. Allow me to explain.

The Problem

One of the biggest problems in football, you could include basketball and baseball as well, is tanking. The idea that teams who do poorly are rewarded with a high draft pick. This has led to legal action with Brian Flores and Hue Jackson accusing their teams of offering to pay them to tank or paying them to tank. I have doubts that Hue Jackson was paid to tank, as he could not do it by himself, he would need his offensive and defensive coordinators onboard to throw the games, and no one has backed up his claim. Flores may have been offered, but once again he would need help to pull it off. The players would not knowingly participate as the next draft pick could replace them or their poor performance would decrease their free agency status and pay. While teams may not be actively tanking there is no incentive to improve their team quickly. For those who have read the “Freakonomics” books, their thesis is that people will do whatever they are incentivized to do and if you can find the right incentive you can get people to do what you want. Right now, there is no incentive for poorly run teams to get their act together. Since 2000 the Cleveland Browns have had 13 top 10 picks, the Detroit Lions had 13, (why have they not been accused of tanking?), 10 for the New York Jets, 10 for the Bengals, and 16 for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Obviously, tanking and getting high draft picks does not work. The Dolphins have started 23 different quarterbacks since Dan Marino retired. How many of these top 10 “busts” and bad quarterbacks are really busts and how many are good players who got drafted into a bad situation, see Ryan Tannehill leaving the Dolphins to Tennessee? Could you imagine what Barry Sanders would have been like if he played for the 49ers or Cowboys in the 90s instead of the Lions? Or would Tom Brady have been given a chance as a 6th round pick on the Browns or the Jaguars? However, these teams do not have a reason to turn things around quickly, see Houston for current mess of a team, as they will be rewarded with another high draft pick to ruin the career of a talent player.

The Proposal

Instead of having a draft, there would be a signing day for college athletes and teams. One of the reasons for this is the draft is a big deal and gets fans attention during April when the NBA and NHL are trying to have playoffs. Under my system, all the potential “draft” picks and teams would meet in one location and players would go from team to team and entertain offers. If a team is not running well, it will have a hard time convincing players to sign, think Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville last year. Would Lawrence has signed with Jacksonville if Chicago, New England, New Orleans, or Atlanta had approached him? For the viewers you could have a camera following certain players around and all contracts signed would be announced from the stage like it is now. Players could also live stream their meetings so fans could see what is being offered. It would help players build their profile. MWC fans could watch Trey McBride, Chad Muma, and Carson Strong talk to teams about how they could fit and the offers. There would also be drama as different players signed with other teams. If Lawrence signed early in the day, how would take change the interest in Zach Wilson or Trey Lance.

Teams do like to trade draft picks with each other and there is a cap of what a rookie can earn. Under this model teams would have a certain number of contracts they could use or trade. Teams would have the following contracts available (value and years can be adjusted to make it work):

Two 5 year $15 million contracts

Two 4 year $2 million contracts

Two 3 year $1 million contracts

Two 2 year $600,000 contracts

Two 1 year $400,000 contracts

Teams who would like to trade contracts for player or different contracts would be able to. Miami could send 5 different contracts to Kansas City for Tyrek Hill. But if teams can only offer the same amount of years and money to players, it will force teams to provide the best option for teams. Under this system it is unlikely that Jacksonville or Detroit would be the best players, but rather teams who are run well. Now, these poorly run and poorly coached teams will have an incentive to provide a better product to not only the fans, but to the college draft players, who can walk away and sign with a different team for the same money, rather than forcing the athlete to sign with a team just because the team had a bad record last year, and the year before and ….