After a slow start in the middle of a persistent snowfall on Sunday, the Bears hit the gas pedal on the way to a 26-6 rout of the San Francisco 49ers.
There had to be an uneasy feeling for Bears fans who were rooting for the team to lose its final five games in order to secure the best draft pick possible. Instead of clapping, shouting or fist-pumping, the most ardent of “tank” supporters had to be frowning, scowling or shaking their heads with each Jordan Howard touchdown or Leonard Floyd sack.
Allow me to play Dr. Freud for a second — or Dr. Phil at the minimum: Stop rooting for the Bears to lose and allow yourself to feel good when they play well.
This idea of the Bears tanking games is nonsense. It’s not going to happen. They’re not going to purposely lose games.
For starters, professional athletes have too much pride to purposely lay down and take a beating. And by beating, I don’t mean just losing the game. I mean physically take a beating as well. In the physically brutal game of football, if you want to intentionally lose a game you are mentally preparing yourself to get your butt whooped for 60 minutes. What player wants to endure that, especially when a more serious injury can happen when you’re not giving it your all?
Not only are these athletes playing for pride and avoiding a lackadaisical injury, but many of them are also playing for their jobs. Which of these guys wants to purposely do bad for a higher draft pick in order for the franchise to draft a player that will come in and take their position?
Coaches aren’t going to lay down either. These guys have as much pride as the players do and they’re coaching for their lives as well. They don’t want to intentionally lose games with the possibility that they get fired and never even get to utilize that higher draft pick that their failure earned the franchise.
Coaches want to demonstrate what they can do when their backs are against the wall. They want to show that they can take second-, third- and even fourth-stringers who are thrust into action due to injury and develop them into contributors.
Finally, general managers and other front office personnel have no desire to lose intentionally because it all goes on their records, too. It’ll hit their pocketbooks as well. General managers want to see which players have the character to fight until the bitter end and aren’t going to quit on the team. They want every bit of game film to analyze where their team’s strengths and weaknesses are. They want to identify potential building blocks and which players are dead weight.
This idea of tanking is a fan-driven one. Fans dream of playing fantasy football with their favorite professional sports teams, and somehow think that the higher draft pick they get the better and quicker their turnaround will be.
Word to the wise: higher draft picks don’t always equal better teams. Ask the Cleveland Browns how their high draft picks over the last couple decades have been. Or the Jacksonville Jaguars. Or the Tennessee Titans. Or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or the Miami Dolphins. Or the Oakland Raiders. Or the 49ers themselves, who have had 7 picks inside the Top 20 since 2009.
All of the aforementioned teams have perennially picked inside the Top 15 — and many of them in the Top 10 — for the better part of the past decade. And only the Raiders appear to be going anywhere now because of it.
But do you know which teams seem to be picking at the end of the draft round each year? The Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Panthers and a few others. In other words, success breeds more success. You can find the right players at the end of draft rounds and still succeed. Just ask the general managers of these ball clubs.
What does a Top 5 draft pick get you? Let’s examine.
They say it takes about 3 years to really understand what you have in a young player, so starting from the 2013 draft and working our way back, here are some of the Top 5 players: Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson (PEDs), Dion Jordan (missed entire 2015 season for third failed drug test), Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Sam Bradford, Jason Smith (four year career, three teams), Aaron Curry (injury-marred career), Mark Sanchez (he of the butt-fumble fame), Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell, Gaines Adams (RIP), Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Robert Gallery.
That’s 18 busts or under-performers out of 50 Top 5 picks in a ten-year span. That’s a 36% bust rate. In other words, more than one-third of Top 5 picks don’t pan out. That’s hardly a guarantee that if a team tanks for a top pick, they’ll be rewarded for it.
So, let’s just stop with this tank idea. It doesn’t necessarily work and no player, coach, or front office personnel wants to do it for any number of reasons.
Pull out your Playstation or Xbox, pop in the latest version of Madden NFL Football and tank those games for a higher draft pick if you want it that bad.
But in the meantime, root for your Bears, feel good about the fact that potential building blocks like Howard and Floyd had good games, and hope that current experience builds future development and success.