The Cleveland Browns were the worst team in the NFL in 2016, and Bill Polian thinks to some degree that was by design. In a radio interview on Wednesday, Polian expressed his concern about the Browns “essentially” tanking the 2016 season to get the top draft pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and how it may become more common for teams to embrace tanking a season to get a better draft spot in the spring.
“The thing that worries me is that the Browns essentially tanked the season last year and no one said — except a few of us — said anything about it,” Polian said while appearing on Mike & Mike. “And it may well be that this is something that can spread around the league, and I don’t think that’s good for the sport in the long run. Because in the end it robs the customers of the chance to see a competitive team.”
Tanking has become far more common in the NBA than any other league (Trust the Process!), but going about a tanking process in the NFL is not impossible. It all comes down to the decisions being made by the front office. The Browns have the benefit of the doubt of just being a dumb franchise to begin with after years of ineptitude (drafting Johnny Manziel in the first round, for example) from the front office.
However, there are times when the decisions made by the team have left some to contemplate whether or not the Browns were actually tanking the season (as if they needed help in losing games). We previously discussed one of those questionable sequences regarding the team’s kicking situation, when the Browns signed Cody Parkey instead of Robbie Gould. This was one specific example pointed out by Polian, who has his own history of being a general manager.
The Browns ended up getting the top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which was used to draft defensive lineman Myles Garrett. By most accounts, the Browns had a successful NFL Draft and have setup a possible foundation to build on moving forward.
It has been questioned if teams have previously tanked to get the top pick as well. Just in recent years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were suspected of tanking in order to get in position to draft quarterback Jameis Winston with the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Tennessee Titans were suspected by some to have gone through an entire “Trust the Process” multi-season tank job, which ultimately led to the drafting of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Some NFL analysts and experts think tanking is impossible to do in the NFL, but there are some times when it looks as though there is at least one team not putting their best effort possible in order to avoid getting a high draft pick.
Polian, however, thinks tanking is not only possible, but on the verge of being an official team strategy for some.