Since the arrival of general manager Sashi Brown last winter, the Cleveland Browns have stunned the league by becoming the first NFL team to not-so-stealthily tank. It’s the smartest thing a general manager of a bad team has done in a long time, and the Browns shouldn’t be the only team doing it.
There’s no reason the NFL shouldn’t be like the NBA in terms of tanking. Heck, without a draft lottery, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be even worse. With only one team set to partake in the NFL’s version of Tankapalooza 2017 (there’s no catchy name yet, like “Gonzo for Lonzo,” in the NBA, but we’ll get there), we thought it’d be a worthy endeavor to give the Browns some company.
What follows are six teams that should tank as soon as possible. Some, such as the New Orleans Saints, will have to wait a year to start tanking because of their quarterback situations, but they still make the list because their long-term outlook is one of mediocrity.
In sports, mediocrity is the worst thing you can have. It doesn’t win you anything in the short-term and it doesn’t get you anywhere in the long-term. When mediocre, a team should do everything it can to race to either the top, or bottom of its respective league.
Without further ado, here are six teams that should do the latter.
Now that Jeff Fisher out of the picture for the Los Angeles Rams, the Cincinnati Bengals are the NFL’s face of mediocrity. The Bengals are just good enough to contend for a playoff spot — and maybe even play a game in January — every year. But their window for title contention passed two years ago when quarterback Andy Dalton hurt his thumb, running back Jeremy Hill fumbled, linebacker Vontaze Burfict went nuts (watch here) and the team lost in the first round — again.
Now wide receiver A.J. Green is heading into his age-29 season and Dalton his age-30 season. The defense finished 18th in efficiency last season and head coach Marvin Lewis has been around since 2003 without winning a single playoff game. Something has to change. The Bengals have to bottom out.
Flip Dalton to a quarterback-needy team — a sort of consolation prize for whoever loses the Tony Romo sweepstakes. Trade Green for draft capital. He’ll no doubt fetch picks at the top of the first round and he’ll no doubt fetch a lot of them. Fire Lewis and hire someone (anyone!) who can shake things up. Look at deals for tight end Tyler Eifert, running backs Gio Bernard and Hill, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and anyone else who will supply draft picks.
Then, build anew. Sure, Cincy will pick in the top-5 for two or three years, but the long-term payoff is much better than another disappointing first-round exit.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers just moved into a new city and conventional wisdom says building a fan base won’t be easy. They’re already not a good team — the Chargers went 5-11 during their last year in San Diego and fired head coach Mike McCoy. Quarterback Philip Rivers is 35 and, of the entire 53-man roster, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than five players who will likely be starting in three years (here’s what my list looks like: Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry…maybe Craig Mager, Jason Verrrett, Melvin Gordon, Denzel Perryman and/or Keenan Allen).
There simply isn’t enough talent on this team to compete in the near future or in the long term. The only argument against tanking is that the Chargers have to build up a fan base in Los Angeles. However, the amount of people who will pay to see a 6-10 team isn’t all too different from the amount of people who will pay to see a 2-14 team.
What matters when it comes to building a fan base is how successful you can be in the shortest amount of time. The fact is that with Rivers at 35, the Chargers aren’t going to be good for a long time no matter what. After he retires, the team is going to bottom out anyway, so why not accelerate the process? Be bad when Bosa is 22 so that you can compete when he’s 26 and wreak havoc on the league.
Los Angeles Rams
For those who wonder why mediocrity is such a bad thing, we give you the Los Angeles Rams. Twelve straight years of .500 or worse football, and at the end of it all they have paltry young talent to show for it.
If Los Angeles wants to give new head coach Sean McVay the highest chance to succeed, the expectations for the next few seasons must be minimal. Quarterback Jared Goff was dismal in eight games last year — falling apart when faced with blitzes and therefore allowing opposing defenses to play the run every time.
Running back Todd Gurley took a step back as well. It was partly as a result of Goff and partly as a result of the offensive line, but it was a step back nonetheless.
McVay and the Rams shouldn’t even think about winning until two years from now. The goal should be building a competent supporting cast around Goff and Gurley on offense and turning the defense into a top-5 unit through the draft.
Starting next season, Los Angeles has all of its picks. Make use of them. And don’t sleep on the trade value of players like Marc Barron, Trumaine Johnson and Robert Quinn. If the Rams want to break the cycle of mediocrity, they have to be worse than they’ve been before they can get good.
At this point, making Washington’s fan base even more miserable seems cruel, but the fact remains: The Redskins need to tank.
Washington has put off a decision on Kirk Cousins’ future two years in a row because they know that giving him $100 million will end badly. Cousins isn’t a horrible quarterback, he’s just replacement level. He’s been helped greatly by a strong coaching staff and one of the best receiving corps in football. But now that offensive coordinator Sean McVay and receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are gone, get ready for Cousins to look a little worse.
With tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Jamison Crowder still around, Cousins may still lead the Redskins to 8-8, but that’s the ceiling right now.
Better to let Cousins go in free agency (likely to the San Francisco 49ers), tank and draft a replacement who could be a superstar than devote $25 million-plus annually in cap space to a quarterback who will struggle to win in the postseason without a great supporting cast.
New Orleans Saints
There’s a potential out in Drew Brees’ contract after next season, and the Saints should take a long, hard look at using it as an opportunity to rebuild. Not because of Brees himself. At age 37, he led the league in passing yardage. However, Father Time comes for everyone, and the Saints have to focus on the future.
New Orleans just traded Brandin Cooks for draft capital (details here) and fellow wideout Michael Thomas has been subtweeting all month. The defense finished 30th in efficiency last season — an improvement from 2015 — and young talent is needed to build it up. And the best way to get that young talent is by tanking.
The Saints aren’t winning any time soon after Brees is gone anyway. They’ll be in quarterback hell, languishing along with the Bears, Jets, Jaguars and all of the other teams whose games become hell after Week 6 of every season. This isn’t just about building up a defense, it’s about finding another quarterback.
After next season, the choice will be trying to compete with an older Brees without much of a supporting cast, hopping on the quarterback carousel of misery and aiming for 6-10, or tanking.
That choice should be easy. Let’s hope it is for Mickey Loomis.
New York Jets
The Jets are unbelievably hapless, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. This is the team that drafted Bryce Petty in the third round in 2015, then turned around and drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second last year (trading up!), resulting in four quarterbacks being on the roster in 2016: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, and those two.
Predictably, that went badly, but only badly enough to get the sixth overall pick. So, to solve their quarterback problem, the Jets signed Josh McCown (more on that here). It’s worth noting that they have yet to say if McCown will be the starter, but unless they reach for a quarterback at No. 6, there isn’t much alternative.
The Jets have been in the throes of quarterback hell since the end of the Joe Namath era. Their best quarterback this century was Chad Pennington. Their best quarterback since Namath was probably Ken O’Brien.
Time to put in all the chips to get a Hall of Fame quarterback for the first time since the AFL was a thing. Tank, and tank hard.
If any team in the league has ever needed to tank, it’s the Jets of 2017. Don’t aim for mediocrity again, don’t torture the fans with another 10 years of losing and don’t be buoyed by a mostly lucky 10-6 season two years ago. This team cannot win, so lose.