Are we about to use the words “tanking” and Los Angeles Rams in the same sentence?
By all indications, the Rams seem to be less inclined to chase free agents this season. They have jettisoned some of their best players with an eye on competing in 2024 or beyond.
So yes, it looks like the Rams are tanking for 2023.
The concept of tanking originated in professional sports about a decade ago. Broadly speaking, it means deliberately putting out an inferior team that will lose games in order to stock pile draft picks and “cap space” to build a future team for a period of success.
The methodology varies.
Ram fans be warned, tanking is bad for you, and it’s bad for your team. There is no concrete evidence that in professional football, tanking works. (Pro basketball since it only has five players on the court is a different metric, one player can elevate you quickly).
But let’s talk tanking and see if there’s any empirical evidence that it works.
Why Tanking Is Bad For The Fan
Imagine that your favorite restaurant is going to ‘tank’ for a little while. The beer will now be served lukewarm, the nachos won’t have a lot of cheese and they may cook some of the hamburgers, or they may not.
I mean, hey, they’re trying to suck so they can build a better place later…at some future date.
However, guess what never changes when a pro team decides to go the tanking route?
The prices of tickets and parking.
Wild how that works, huh? Even though they all but acknowledge they’re putting out an inferior product, the franchises still want you to pay full freight.
And I love how fans become enamored with the concept of “cap space.” Yes, how exciting my team has $20 million under the cap, but how many TD catches does cap space have? Teams that are under the cap are cheap. Period. When they don’t pay players, it’s the owners who keep that money.
Why Tanking is Bad Period
There’s no perfect way to rate tanking in the NFL, but I think the best way would be to look at all of the quarterbacks who have been chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2010.
We’d have to agree that -if- you were tanking in the NFL, the goal would be to get a high draft pick and take a big-time star quarterback out of college.
I mean, teams don’t “tank for the defensive tackle.” Even though honestly, they could. It might actually work better.
Again, this is where its different from basketball, because NBA teams can tank and get a superstar at No. 1 in the NBA Draft and be a star.
In the NFL? Well, let’s look at the numbers.
QBs taken in first round
Kenny Pickett 20 by Pittsburgh
The Tank: Pickett started 12 games last year and won seven. He looks like a pro, a Super Bowl kid? Maybe not.
Trevor Lawrence 1 by Jacksonville
Zach Wilson 2 by NYJ
Trey Lance 3 by Niners
Justin Fields 11 by Bears
Mac Jones 15 by Patriots
The Tank: Lawrence won his first playoff game last year in that comeback over the Chargers. Zach Wilson is already toast. Trey Lance got hurt. Fields and Jones are still fighting.
Joe Burrow 1 by Bengals
Tua Tagovailoa 5 by Miami
Justin Herbert 6 by LAC
Jordan Love 26 by Packers
The Tank: Burrow is clearly the star here. He took the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 2021, where they lost to…checks notes…the Rams. Herbert can’t break the Chargers Curse.
Kyler Murray 1 by Arizona
Daniel Jones 6 by Giants
Dwayne Haskins 15 by Washington
The Tank: Murray has made it to two Pro Bowls, but is 0-1 in the playoffs. Daniel Jones won a playoff game last season. Haskins RIP.
Baker Mayfield 1 by Cleveland
Sam Darnold 3 by Jets
Josh Allen 7 by Bills
Josh Rosen 10 by Arizona
Lamar Jackson 32 by Ravens
The Tank: Baker, the former Ram, did lead the Browns to a playoff win in 2020. Darnold is now with his third team. Allen is 4-4 in the playoffs, Lamar is a free agent who no one wants?
Mitch Trubisky 2 by Bears
Mahomes 10 by KC
Deshaun Watson 12 by Texans
The Tank: Mahomes is the King of the NFL. Two Super Bowl rings and two NFL MVPs. Watson massaged one playoff win in Houston, Trubisky is now a back-up.
Jared Goff 1 by Rams
Carson Wentz 2 by Eagles
The Tank: Wentz is a great case here, he was the back-up for the Eagles when they won the Super Bowl. Goff lost a Super Bowl with the Rams.
Jameis Winston 1 by Tampa
Marcus Mariota 2 by Tenn (2 playoff games 1-1)
The Tank: Mariota won a playoff game with the Titans. Winston is now a back-up.
Blake Bortles 3 by Jax
Johnny Manziel 22 by Browns
Teddy Bridgewater 32 by Minn
The Tank: You know, Bortles had the Jaguars a few plays away from the Super Bowl in 2017. Manziel is a great story and little else, Bridgewater got hurt and is a back-up.
EJ Manuel 16 by Buffalo
The Tank: Dear reader, I had to look up EJ Manuel because I forgot all about him. For some reason everyone thought Florida State quarterbacks were good.
Andrew Luck 1 by Colts
Robert Griffin III 2 by Washington
Ryan Tannehill 8 by Miami
Brandon Weeden 22 by Browns
The Tank: Luck won four playoff games, so was he worth the Suck for Luck campaign? We’ll never know because he abruptly retired, and we’ll never know about how good RG3 could have been if he had stayed healthy.
Cam Newton 1 by Panthers
Jake Locker 8 by Tenn
Blaine Gabbert 10 by Jax
Christian Ponder 12 by Minn
The Tank: Ponder was one of the biggest busts of the last decade. Newton took the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, but got old and slow.
Sam Bradford 1 by Rams
Tim Tebow 25 by Denver
The Tank: What a list. Bradford couldn’t stay healthy. Tebow couldn’t stay in the NFL, but he did win a playoff game, in OT, over the Steelers.
Add it all up…
39 quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the last 13 NFL Drafts.
17 have started a playoff game.
14 have won a playoff game.
Four have made the Super Bowl (Cam Newton, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow). Carson Wentz is kind of like a half.
One has won a Super Bowl – Mahomes.
So did “tanking” or trying to lose to get a high draft pick to take a QB work for anyone? Even Mahomes was drafted mid-first round because the Chiefs had Alex Smith already, so its not like the Chiefs tanked for him.
What Should The Rams Strategy Be?
Try to win. Now. Next year, the year after that and the year after that.
The main issue with tanking or trying to lose is that even bad NFL teams are full of NFL players. The Rams were bad last year, but still won five games. A couple of different plays (against Tampa and Seattle both times) and they could have been 8-9.
That’s the razor thin margin for making the playoffs in the NFL.
These stats don’t prove that tanking definitely doesn’t work (although it does show that NFL teams are lousy at picking quarterbacks in the first round) but it’s not clear that it does.
NFL teams should always try to be getting the best players in other to win games. If not, then why play the games at all?