Even with the perception that the Dolphins are tanking their 2019 season in pursuit of the top selection in next year’s draft, Goodell said the league doesn’t see a lottery as the answer to any competitive issues that might arise.
“I don’t think that’s solved with a lottery,” Goodell said. “I think that’s solved by all the other issues that we try to deal with on a regular basis through the competition committee, and the league in trying to make sure our league is competitive.”
The Dolphins are 0-6 and have lost by an average of 24.7 points. They traded away some of their best players — left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick — to stockpile draft picks. The race for the No. 1 choice in the 2020 draft could come down to the result of the Dec. 22 game in Miami Gardens between the Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 0-7.
The team with the top pick in next year’s draft will have its choice of potential franchise quarterbacks, perhaps Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert. The reward for finishing with the worst record in the NFL is the draft’s top selection. That’s not so in the NBA, which dealt with tanking allegations by using a lottery system in which teams are encouraged to try their best because the draft order is not guaranteed.
The Dolphins have denied the tanking allegations. And indeed, there’s no evidence that Coach Brian Flores and his players aren’t doing all they can to try to win each game. Flores has gone back and forth between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen at quarterback. He went for a potential winning two-point conversion at the end of a one-point loss against the Washington Redskins. The Dolphins had a fourth-quarter lead Sunday in Buffalo before succumbing.
There’s no disputing, however, that the team’s front office has taken a bigger-picture view with the trades. So does that qualify as organizational tanking or merely being realistic and prudent?
The NFL thrives on unpredictability and parity, based on the notion that the league’s prosperity is enhanced when fans in more cities are convinced their teams have Super Bowl potenttial. Sharing national TV revenue evenly keeps teams on relatively equal financial footing. The salary cap keeps spending on players fairly even. The scheduling formula and draft order also are components.
Yet even in a 2019 season in which TV viewership is on the upswing, there is a big disparity between a handful of have and have-not teams. At the top end, the New England Patriots are 7-0 with an average margin of victory of 25 points, the highest by an NFL team at this point in a season in the Super Bowl era. At the bottom end are the Dolphins, who suffered a 43-0 defeat at home to the Patriots in Week 2, and the Bengals.
There also is a huge middle class of teams, though.
“I think our competitiveness is really good,” Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL’s rulemaking competition committee, said at the owners’ meeting.
McKay said that the number of games decided by seven points or fewer was the most in league history through six weeks.
“So that’s a good stat,” McKay said. “Our margin of victory is good. So we’ve got a lot of good trends from a numbers standpoint.”
This isn’t the first time that allegations of tanking have surfaced in the NFL. There was, notably, the “Suck for Luck” talk for quarterback Andrew Luck, considered a once-in-a-generation NFL prospect, before the 2012 draft.
The draft remains a speculative venture, even when it comes to supposedly can’t-miss quarterback prospects. Luck was taken first by the Indianapolis Colts and replaced Peyton Manning, with owner Jim Irsay predicting multiple Super Bowl wins. And while Luck established himself as a top NFL quarterback, the Colts never reached a Super Bowl with him before Luck announced his retirement just before this season.
The last 14 quarterbacks taken first in the NFL draft — since Manning in 1998 — are Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Luck, Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, David Carr, Michael Vick and Tim Couch.
That list contains a mixture of successes and busts. Only one, Eli Manning, won a Super Bowl. So there’s no guarantee that tanking would even work in the NFL, perhaps bolstering the case for Goodell’s rejection of the NBA model.
“It’s been discussed over the years. … I think from our standpoint, we find the draft to be successful on many fronts,” Goodell said. “One, the competitive side, but also the event itself has grown dramatically. So it’s not under active consideration. It hasn’t been raised by either the [competition] committee or the clubs at this stage.”
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