I’m not a believer in full-season tanking. But there’s a point where less success at the end of the season means more power in the offseason.
This year, the Texans won a meaningless Week 18 game over the Colts, with a touchdown in the final minute and a two-point conversion that sealed the victory.
The move, which added another number to the Houston win column (does anyone really know how many games the Texans won without looking it up?), gave the Bears the first overall pick. And now, with the Texans at No. 2, Houston will have to either trade up a spot or watch some other team leapfrog them to take the player they could have gotten, unfettered.
It really was a gift for the Bears, who weren’t expecting it.
“So I go into the locker room and [I swear] on my kids’ lives, my only thought process at the time was to just show appreciation for guys who fought through a really tough year,” G.M. Ryan Poles told Peter King for his Football Morning in America column. “I talked to all of them. Then someone pulls me aside and says, ‘Hey, Houston won. We got the first overall pick.’ I wasn’t even there in the mental space to think about it yet. . . . Then, that night, getting in the driveway at home, my neighbor drives by and yells out, ‘Hey man, congratulations on the first pick!’ And I was like, a little weird to celebrate this.”
It shouldn’t be weird. There’s real value in it. That’s why some teams tanks. Again, it makes no sense to set out to secure the No. 1 pick in September, like Dolphins owner Stephen Ross did in 2019. (He claims he was joking. The punchline has been even harder to find than Hoffa.) But the Texans absolutely should have found a way to gracefully, or otherwise, let the Colts win in Week 18.
Former coach Lovie Smith absolutely knows how to do it. In the last week of the 2014 regular season, Smith’s Buccaneers led the Saints by double digits. Smith removed roughly half the starters, and the Saints came back and won. That secured the No. 1 overall pick for the Bucs. (They got Jameis Winston, which arguably was sufficient punishment.)
Maybe the difference was that Smith knew he’d be back in Tampa for 2015, and that he either knew he’d be fired in Houston or suspected it was coming. Regardless, Smith did the first team he ever coached -- the Bears -- a huge favor by winning his final game as a head coach in Houston. It gave the Bears the top spot in the draft, and now the Texans will have to give up something significant to get what they could have easily had for nothing.