Should the Arizona Cardinals Begin Tanking Games To Gain Draft Position?

Luke BungerCorrespondent IIIDecember 6, 2010

The St. Louis Rams ended home teams hopes of a surprise run for the NFC West title with their 19-6 defeat of the Arizona Cardinals
The St. Louis Rams ended home teams hopes of a surprise run for the NFC West title with their 19-6 defeat of the Arizona CardinalsChristian Petersen/Getty Images

I know.

There are some things we just don't discuss in polite company, and the idea of the Cardinals, or any team you love, going out of their way to lose games is one of them.

And, of course, any NFL coach, player, GM or owner will tell you, no one tanks games. You always fight to stay relevant, even if that is by being the deciding factor in which of your divisional rivals goes through, or stealing a late win from a team tipped to get a wild card spot.

Yes, the idea of tanking games is just not something we ever discuss.

But let's talk about it for a while.

After Sundays loss to the Rams, and a win by the Seahawks, the Cardinals are out of all realistic contention to win the NFC West.

In their remaining four games, they play the Denver Broncos (3-9), who have no playoff hopes at all; the Carolina Panthers (1-11), who seem set to end the season with the worst record in the NFL; the Dallas Cowboys (4-8) who, at best, can end the season at .500; and a final week divisional matchup against the 49ers (4-8), who, like the Cardinals, now appear out of the hunt after a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Beating any of these teams does very little to keep the Cardinals relevant. Indeed, all these wins appear to do is hurt the Cardinals, when it comes to their most pressing issues.

At this point, every NFL fan can point at the Cardinals most pressing need, and that is a quarterback.

The more wins the Cardinals get, the higher they potentially climb up the NFL standings, and the later they pick in the draft.

In the 2011 draft, there are a few QBs who could fit the bill for the Cardinals. Ryan Mallett or Jake Locker are the names most often mentioned, but the reality is the best quarterback on the board is also the best pick period.

Andrew Luck is the most exciting draft prospect in recent memory, quite possibly in NFL history.

He's more exciting than Sam Bradford or Ndamukong Suh, who for me were the most exciting prospects in a decade when they entered the 2010 draft. More exciting than even Peyton Manning. Though I wasn't there, the hype surrounding Luck looks set to rival that of the great John Elway or Troy Aikman.

But, at least right now, Luck will all but certainly go to whichever team picks first, that is not the Cardinals. If Jimmy Clausen improves enough, and the Panthers grow to love DaQuan Bowers enough, then Luck may may fall to second. But that has to be the most anyone should expect him to slip.

Of course, we all repeat the old adage that one player doesn't make a team, that a good team doesn't become bad solely on the back of one player, nor does a bad one improve significantly with the addition of one good player.

And yet, for Cardinals fans, that just doesn't hold true anymore. I suspect that the Rams would tell you differently too. Certainly on the evidence of Sunday's performance, Sam Bradford has turned around their franchise, and done so without the benefit of a real high-quality receiving corps.

The Cardinals still have fantastic options at receivers, and a running game which could be potent. Second and third round picks must be spent on bolstering their defence, which has struggled throughout 2010.

This means that the first round is the only place the Cardinals can, and should, draft a quarterback.

The Cardinals currently look set to pick somewhere between fourth and eighth, which means Luck is out of the question. Either Mallett or Locker should still be around, and, given the choice, Mallett looks like the better fit for the Cards.

The problem is, Luck, Mallett and Locker are all first round picks, and, at one point or another have all been predicted to go inside the top 10.

If the Cardinals win a few games, they could find themselves in the unfortunate situation of watching all three go off the board before their first pick.

If, however, the Cardinals tank their remaining games—including handing wins to the Panthers and Broncos, who would currently pick before them, they could maybe end up with the first or second overall pick—Andrew Luck territory.

Mallett and Locker are great prospects, for sure, but so was Matt Leinart.

Luck would be able to step into their lineup for Week 1 of 2011 and make an immediate impact. No other quarterback in the draft can hold a candle to him in terms of immediate impact and game readiness.

The benefits continue right down the draft. The options at 33 are often significantly better than at 43. When you're picking early in the order, you can often get first round talent in the second or third rounds. Picking late all too often forces you to reach for third round talent in the second or first, to get the the positions you need to fill.

And when it comes to trading up you hold all of the cards.


Is loosing really the answer?

I take no joy in writing this. The idea of deliberately losing all of our remaining games, even if the end result is Andrew Luck, does not make me feel good.

Watching the Cardinals lose to the Rams was heartbreaking, even though I knew a win still did not do us many favors. Seeing us lose to the Carolina Panthers would probably be even worse. And yet, deep down, I know the payoffs would be worth it. 

Of course tanking—or, more accurately, match fixing—is an ugly concept, and not at all what I'm suggesting. I would certainly hate to see the Cardinals or any NFL team throwing games by deliberately allowing points. There is a more positive way to frame it.

Tanking the season is perhaps the wrong way to phrase it. For several weeks now, I have argued that the Cardinals need to stop thinking of 2010 as a standalone season, and consider it in terms of the building of a franchise. I believe they need to stop thinking about individual score lines and instead focus on improving their young players, even though they will probably lose games because of it. 

If the Cardinals continue to field John Skelton and give him real game experience, rather than starting whoever gives them the best chance to win; if they give players like LaRod Stephens-Howling a chance to run the ball, line up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at wide receiver a few more times, and give him a chance to improve his catching, and work on unusual plays which everyone practices, but never get tried in play, then maybe the Cardinals won't have to throw their games.

If they treat the remainder of the season like the preseason, as an experience to grow, develop and improve for 2011, then it doesn't matter whether they win or lose, the fans can leave the stadium, heads high, having enjoyed a spectacle, even if they lose with a 30-plus point deficit.

And if they do fall to first or second overall pick along the way, then so be it!