The Los Angeles Rams pulled off a blockbuster trade for the first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, but it is the Titans who will benefit the most as it sets them up perfectly to complete the NFL’s ideal 3-year tanking plan.
Tanking has become a hot-button topic in professional sports as more and more teams are content to lose games now in order to strengthen the team for the future with better draft picks.
In some cases, the losing can hit extreme measures and seem never-ending. One classic example is the Philadelphia 76ers and “The Process,” which has resulted in 47 wins total over the last three seasons, or one fewer than the Golden State Warriors had at the All-Star break this season. The other is the Houston Astros, who averaged 108 losses from 2011 through 2013 and managed to parlay that into a playoff team in 2015.
But the NFL is a different monster. With free agency, the salary cap, and a short season, it is easier to become a playoff contender quickly as teams often go from the scrap heap to the playoffs in as little as one season.
As a result, fewer teams are willing to commit to the tanking process, and if they do, it looks more like what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did in 2014, where it wasn’t until the end of the season when they fully embraced losing in order to secure the rights to the top pick in the draft.
But if an NFL team is going to fully commit to the tanking system, they could do a lot worse than following the path the Titans are on right now. It takes three years of losing and two key steps, draft a quarterback and then make a trade for a ton of picks to surround him with talent.
Lose enough games to secure a draft pick high enough to select a franchise quarterback with the potential to become an elite quarterback.
In 2014, the Titans went 2-14 and landed the second pick in the draft.
Draft a quarterback and make him the starter early and often. Then lose enough games to secure another top draft pick.
In 2015, the Titans drafted Marcus Mariota who started 12 games and gained some nice in-the-trenches experience. The team went 3-13 and landed the top pick in the draft.
Trade the high pick for a larger collection of picks in both the current year’s draft and hopefully even add some for the next year’s draft. The team can now start filling in the holes around the star quarterback and run out a young team that will still lose, but is closer to becoming a perennial playoff team.
The Titans are now in season 3. They have drafted their QB (Mariota) and traded their the top pick in this year’s draft for a bounty of picks from the Rams in both this year’s and next year’s drafts. They have the most valuable collection of picks this year and will likely have the most valuable set next year as well.
After 3 seasons, it is time to win.
By this point next year, the Titans will have a choice: They will have two first-round picks and can either add two players with the potential to start right away at key positions, or they can package the picks and move up to grab a difference-maker at one of the top spots in the draft.
The Titans will be in an enviable position. They will have their young franchise quarterback in his third season. They will have a slew of other high-upside players at key positions. And they will have two or three more first-round picks with Pro Bowl-calibre talent.
Of course, the Titans still need to make good picks. But they have already made the important one as Mariota has shown that he will likely become, at worst, a dependable starting NFL quarterback.
The Titans are probably going to lose more games than they will win this year. But Titans fans can rest a little easier. If their team continues to play their cards right, by the time the 2017 season rolls around, the Titans should be a playoff-calibre team for years to come.