Ah, week 10 of the NFL schedule. That magical time of the year where about 10 teams are pretty confident, another 10 teams are biting their fingernails, and the remaining 12 teams try to package their failure as opportunity. Despite having all of the trappings of a successful team in 2017, the LA Chargers are in the last category. If they capitalized on opportunities, they would have a winning record—but they did not. This means that it’s not the time to clean house; these are not the 2017 NY Giants.
At 0-4, many fans had accepted that the season would be a dud. At 3-4, suddenly there was hope again! Well, now the Chargers are at 3-6 and a week 17 exit is just a formality. That’s OK- that’s how the majority of NFL teams will spend January. At this point in the season, a familiar chord begins to hum-- not early season carols, but the non-sarcastic anticipation of a tanked season for the promise of draft capital.
Unless you are the 2017 Giants, Browns, or 49ers, this race to the bottom is completely counter-productive. There is indeed extreme value in the #1 overall pick. There is incredible value in picks 2 and 3. The rest of the picks are, well, they’re pretty good because there are lots of good players in any draft’s first round. Whether drafted or traded, these high picks are no guarantee of success, but they sure can fire up a fan base.
If you place much faith in the draft capital system (I don’t), the Chargers right now are realistically slotted between the 6th and the 20th overall pick. From 3,000 points for the 1st overall pick to 590 for the 32nd overall pick, the draft system is definitely top-heavy. The 6th pick is suggested to be worth 1600 points, while the 20th pick is about half that at 850 points. Many roll their eyes at the draft capital system because of this point atrophy, but it does help to illustrate a different point. After the first few picks, almost all first round slots are similarly important. There is as much capital loss from pick 1 to pick 3 as there is from the Chargers’ lineup of 6 to 20.
I feel like my point might be getting lost in arbitrary numbers. Let me make it clear: There is so little difference in value between middling picks of the 1st round that a team should definitely prioritize winning versus losing. I would also make the case that intentionally tanking is so damaging to a fan base and, more importantly, a locker room, that it is never a good idea.
I mean... unless you are trying to disgrace the franchise as much as possible, thus incentivizing the owner to sell to get out of a perpetual loop of failure and disgrace. In which case, have fun and embrace the bomb!
-Jason “No, that’s not how franchises work, but it’s a nice thought” Michaels