Tanking NFL Teams Picked the Wrong Year to Lose for a QB

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterOctober 25, 2018

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 22: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Oregon Ducks falls to the truf in the third quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon. Stanford won the game in overtime 38-31. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The Giants flea market/consignment auction/estate sale is officially underway, and no reasonable offer will be refused!

Inconsistent-but-still-useful cornerback Eli Apple? Off to New Orleans. Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle "Snacks" Harrison? Traded for a bag of chips to the Lions. More moves are possible as the trade deadline looms. Everything is marked down for clearance except that weather-beaten marble statue in the corner. Oh wait, that's the quarterback.

The Giants must be fracking their roster so they can sink to the bottom of the standings and draft Oregon wunderkind Justin Herbert to replace rapidly declining Eli Manning.

There's only one problem: The Raiders are also holding a fire sale, with Amari Cooper shipped off to the Cowboys and reports that no one on the roster is untouchable. They are also probably angling for Herbert to replace embattled Derek Carr next season.

Two teams dropping like depth charges but one quarterback of the future, at most. What a terrible year to be Bustin' for Justin or getting Plucked for the Duck or turning your roster to Sherbet for Herbert or whatever you want to call tanking in the name of drafting the quarterback of your dreams next year.

Herbert is the consensus top quarterback prospect likely to be available in the 2019 draft. He has prototypical size (6'6", 234 lbs) and arm strength, very good touch and accuracy, and fine mobility. He's been impressive in big games this year, showing improvement as a decision-maker and a willingness to hang in a collapsing pocket—two major indicators of NFL worthiness.

But Herbert cannot play for two teams. So, the team that finishes second in the Tanking Olympics gets a silver medal named…Drew Lock (Mizzou)? Jake Browning (Washington)? Ryan Finley (NC State)? Nice little prospects, if you ignore some of their recent games against top competition. Maybe-sorta-kinda future franchise quarterbacks you can talk yourself into. Definitely not guys to scuttle a season waiting for.

Also, Herbert has a year of eligibility left and could stay on the cozy Oregon campus instead of landing in a bad NFL situation, like replacing a possible Hall of Famer in the hemisphere's largest media market or playing for a coach with a reputation of finding nothing but fault with young quarterbacks.

Missouri's Drew Lock is one of the more promising quarterbacks in college football, but is he worth the pain of trying to lose your way to the top of the draft?
Missouri's Drew Lock is one of the more promising quarterbacks in college football, but is he worth the pain of trying to lose your way to the top of the draft?Sean Rayford/Associated Press

Oh, one more thing: All the deadline trades in the world cannot guarantee that the Giants or Raiders will finish ahead in the draft order of the awful Cardinals or Bills, the injury-devastated 49ers or some other team that gets a wild hair about surrendering the season to the draft-order demigods.

That's the problem with trying to win a limbo contest for the highest draft pick; the more teams that do it, the lower the chances of success and the uglier the football gets on Sundays.

To see just how futile swan-diving for the future is this season, let's run a few scenarios. We'll mainly focus on the Giants, who passed up potential Manning-successors Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson to select Saquon Barkley, a phenomenal running back who recently gained 229 total yards in a 34-13 loss to the Eagles, thus summarizing the difference in game impact between a quarterback and even the most productive running back.

   

The Giants finish with the NFL's worst record, and Herbert declares for the draft. Hooray! They draft Herbert to pair with Barkley and throw to Odell Beckham Jr., which…ain't half bad.

Of course, their defense will be awful and head coach Pat Shurmur's career record will be about 13-36 by the time that happens, so East Rutherford may not be the most nurturing place for a rookie quarterback. But hey, they'll have their quarterback, and Gruden would be forced to settle for acquiring someone like Ryan Fitzpatrick. Which he would probably enjoy.

   

The Giants finish second to the Raiders. There's an approximately zero percent chance that Gruden maintains the Carr charade through next year. There's a slightly greater chance that he talks himself into AJ McCarron, Fitzpatrick, Sam Bradford or someone else who fits the Gruden archetype (veteran, low expectations, easy to blame). But with PSLs to sell in Las Vegas, the Raiders will almost certainly draft Herbert, if he's eligible.

This scenario leaves the Giants sifting for Manning's replacement through the Lock-Finley bin, where they won't find anyone as gifted as Darnold or Rosen, or drafting top defender Nick Bosa and spending another season figuring out how many congressional votes it takes to impeach Manning.

   

The Bills, Cardinals or 49ers finish with the top pick. None of these teams will be in the rookie quarterback market. That means the Giants or Raiders could win the Herbert sweepstakes by finishing in second place (or third or fourth place behind some combo of these teams), right?

Not so fast. Funny things will happen when the predraft trading season starts and teams like the Broncos and Jaguars get desperate for a quarterback.

Remember when the Rams and Eagles traded bouquets of picks and players for the rights to draft Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively? The Bills (who need an entire offense) and Cardinals (a whole roster) would snap at the chance to trade down with a team looking to leapfrog the Giants and/or Raiders for Herbert.

The Raiders have three first-round picks, giving them lots of maneuverability when the offers start flying. They could easily package two picks (one of them probably in the top five or so) to hop over the Giants. Big win for the Raiders; try not to think about how much they mortgaged to pull it off.

   

Herbert stays in college. The only winners here are the second-tier incoming quarterbacks and the guys like McCarron, Kyle Lauletta or Veteran-Gruden-Loves-To-Be-Named-Later that teams will overinvest in or settle for. There's nothing wrong with giving a Lauletta a shot or trying to develop a Finley or Lock. But teams shouldn't sacrifice a season to do it.

         

The more bad teams there are, the harder it is for any team to jockey into position for the one player it needs. So, if some other team ties an anchor around its waist and starts trading veterans, that team will lower the odds of success for itself and everyone else.

The Giants' decision to trade "Snacks" Harrison to the Lions netted them a fifth-round pick next year but, more importantly, increased their chances of rising toward the top of the entire draft.
The Giants' decision to trade "Snacks" Harrison to the Lions netted them a fifth-round pick next year but, more importantly, increased their chances of rising toward the top of the entire draft.Bob Levey/Getty Images

So becoming Slackers for the Quacker (yeah, these Herbert slogans need serious work) by strip-mining the roster at the trade deadline is an awful idea. For every Jerry Jones eager to overpay for Amari Cooper, there's a team like the Lions walking away with a Pro Bowl defender and locker room leader in exchange for a third-day draft pick.

But there's a popular school of thought nowadays that wrongly equates rebuilding with doing everything and anything, including rendering your team non-competitive, in exchange for moving up the draft board.

Rebuilding requires a detailed, long-range plan which involves tough decisions, like preparing for your aging quarterback's decline (Giants) and not larding the roster with veterans your assistant coaches are fond of (Raiders). This year's biggest deadline deals have been more about flailing than planning: Everything we worked for in the offseason went kablooey after a half-dozen games, so let's try something completely different.

The faux-Moneyball infatuation with hoarding precious draft capital provides cover and justification for teams that render themselves unwatchable before Halloween. And dreams of that next rookie quarterback appease the sort of fan who's as happy scouring mock drafts as tailgating before a big game.

But there's only one rookie quarterback in the pipeline, and he can stay in school if he likes, so any team that sells its furniture to draft him could end up with nowhere to sleep.

Plus, all it takes is one long look at this year's rookie starters—all four of them at the bottom of the quarterback rating leaderboard, due both to inexperience and their deficient, depleted supporting casts and/or coaching staffs—to illustrate that gutting the roster to grab a quarterback is counterproductive.

But that's OK. Teams like the Giants and Raiders can all just make more trades, stink it up for another year and then draft Tua Tagovailoa. Long live two years of Dyin' for the Hawaiian!

Yep, there's a foolproof plan that could not possibly backfire.

           

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@MikeTanier.

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