April is one of the most passive-aggressive times of the year for a sports fan. Playoffs are being lined up in rival sports, baseball is again trying to convince America that it is a thing that still matters, and very little news leaks out from the NFL. Well, except for occasional big-name athletes being let go because they aren’t worth their now-mountainous cap hit.
OKAY, OKAY, baseball does still matter, but only until preseason NFL games begin.
As we prepare for the 2018 draft, a lot of folks are inundating the web with what-if scenarios, blockbuster trades, and general mayhem where no player or draft position is sacred. One of the recurring things that I’ve seen is that “it is a shame that the Chargers didn’t tank,” as they didn’t make the playoffs.
I will admit, the top 5 draft choices have really ballooned in value over the last few years. I really thought that the Eagles were foolish to over-reach on the move up to number 2. In hindsight, it would have been a million times more beneficial for the team to have gone 0-16 in 2015. They would’ve received the player they wanted and never lost a slew of 2017 and 2018 picks. I was wrong in my assessment— Carson Wentz, who I grew to love before he even threw his first NFL pass, was worth his weight in gold, draft picks, or cheesesteaks. But whether Wentz was to be the next Ryan Leaf or Tom Brady, I would never have wanted my team to tank to select the player or draft capital promised at seasons’ end. Never.
Do you remember the despair on October 1, 2018? The Chargers had just dropped 4 straight against both good and dreadful opponents. It was terrible. However, on October 8, the Chargers poetically faced off against the NY Giants. The loser would be the pace car for the Browns, and the winner could hold on to the thinnest thread of playoff hope. Against all odds, the Chargers won. And won. AND WON!
The NFL season is so short. There is only so much time to enjoy your favorite players on the field and an even less lengthy time to enjoy the hope of postseason success. I will always thank Anthony Lynn, Philip Rivers, Joey Bosa, and everyone involved in keeping the thrill alive for months longer than most e-coroners were giving the Chargers. At the end of the day, the thrill of the sport is the hope that your team will be victorious on a particular day. The thrill of sport dies when you can’t expect that your team will try their hardest to win.
In my heart of hearts, I hope that Cleveland fans really do expect that their team is giving each game everything that they are capable of. If they can’t hold on to that hope, why watch at all?
To bring this back to earth, there was a general and reasonable call for “tanking” after the December 16th loss to the Chiefs. The playoff route was so convoluted and distant that the draft was the most likely thing Chargers fans still had to look forward to (other than the Chiefs being booted from the playoffs). Thankfully, the Chargers got back on track. They won and then won again to close out the season. Those remaining two weeks were still a thrill—even if a distant, fool’s thrill—that the Chargers could contend. They still had a shot!
But for concept’s sake, let’s pretend that they did not. Let’s pretend that the Chargers were officially cooked on December 16th. Losing out would have left their record at 7-9. Yuck. Another losing season in a sea of them. The Chargers could have looked forward to choosing the 13th pick in the 2018 draft, just ahead of the Redskins.
Now the Chargers sit at pick #17, and all of the swagger in the world after pulling off a 9-7 season after starting 0-4. Call me crazy, but I would trade those four draft spots in a hurry for the extra confidence and relevance that those wins purchased for the Chargers.
-Jason “Tanking is for the fish” Michaels