It has long been known that the owners of the NFL teams will meet today, August 9, in Minnesota. It has long been known that they will vote on the purchase of the Denver Broncos by the heirs of Wal-Mart. It’s long been known that unless something dramatic and completely unexpected happens, at least 24 owners will approve the transaction, making Rob Walton the richest owner in the league by far.
Rob Walton, the son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, has a net worth in the $70 billion range. The next richest owner in the NFL, David Tepper, has less than $17 billion. (Maybe it’s time for a bake sale.)
It is also expected that (as PFT reported last week), while owners are in a meeting on business, the Commissioner will issue a stern reminder to all owners about two rules that became all-important last Tuesday, when the league suspended Dolphins owner Stephen Ross until the sixth game of the 2022. regular season for the rampant manipulation of Tom Brady and Sean Payton. Ross was also tanked, even though the league found that he essentially lit the fuse on a losing effort in 2019, aiming for a higher draft pick in 2020. (He definitely wasn’t, as some have suggested “exonerated” for his tank attempt. At best, he was excused from it.)
While the Commissioner may get angry and brag about the tampering, the league knows the rule cannot be properly enforced. Manipulation is rampant. In this case, the tampering became the apparent basis for a commitment penalty, as the league is not inclined to find that it has failed in any way.
Earlier this year, the league gave the Browns a pass on a four-year plan that clearly prioritized other factors over winning games. Did the Browns deliberately try to lose any specific game? No. Did they incentivize factors that would make it harder to win games, like racking up future picks and not spending cash? Absolutely.
Regardless, the NFL will not use this specific T-word without a I shot the employeestyle confession. And no one will be foolish enough to admit that they tried to lose specific games.
The implications would be too problematic for the league and for specific individuals, especially in an era of legalized gambling. From civil lawsuits to potential court proceedings to potential legislative efforts, any league finding that a team didn’t do everything possible to win a given game would spell disaster. Even though it has happened before. And surely it will happen again.
The NFL maintains a draft ordering system that clearly draws a bright line between failing now and succeeding later. The temptation to tank is as obvious as the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. In this case, however, that apple is going to be eaten annually by the worst team in the league. Once a franchise realizes they’ve lost their current season, why not take advantage of the silver lining that comes from continuing to lose?
The Buccaneers absolutely did it in 2014, taking out half the starters in a Week 17 game against the Saints, blowing a double-digit lead and clinching the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft. Some are convinced the Eagles they did so in the final game of the 2020 season, when a potential Eagles win over Washington essentially went to waste as Philly eliminated Jalen hurts by Nate Sudfield. (For more on the tank and the other things the NFL does and sometimes doesn’t handle right, check playmakers.)
For the Dolphins, Ross was apparently saying it’s better to draft higher in 2020 than win in 2019 long before it became clear the Dolphins weren’t going to be serious contenders that year. For the Browns, he was even more vague and distant from the end of the season. AHA! moment that makes a team realize it has no chance of making the playoffs, and a real shot at securing the No. 1 pick in the next draft.
Long story short, the NFL can’t stop manipulating and won’t stop sinking unless someone is foolish enough to admit to a specific effort to lose games. On Tuesday, the Commissioner is likely to make some scathing comments about both policies. In the future, it will be a shock if anything really changes.
The handling teams will probably be more careful. Teams tempted to fail will trust that they will never be punished for it unless they declare their intentions on the stadium video board.