FRISCO, Texas — The 2018 NFL draft is over and what a success it was for the city of Arlington, Texas, the NFL, its fans and every team in the league.
Let’s be real.
Every team thinks it drafted great players and got better during the three-day player acquisition process at AT&T Stadium.
The process of giving the worst team the best pick is supposed to give everyone a fair chance and result in parity.
But this so-called “welfare system,” according to former Major League Baseball executive Brad Kullman, also sometimes (a lot of times) results in tanking.
Kullman details the history of the draft in his book, “Losing (To Win),” and offers a plan to put an end to the tanking epidemic by giving teams an incentive to win every game possible.
Take the Dallas Cowboys, for example.
Instead of being punished with a lower pick for winning their final game of the season in 2017, which had every fan beside themselves over the loss of three valuable draft spots as they dropped from 16 to 19 with the empty 6-0 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys would have been rewarded for their effort in this year’s draft.
Here are six facts about his plan, according to Kullman:
1. The original purpose of the NFL draft was NOT to award the best player to the worst team. First established in 1935, the draft was specifically designed to strip amateur players of negotiating leverage and put an end to escalating bidding wars that were threatening the existence of the fledgling league. With football fans focused primarily on the game at the college level, the majority of teams in the early days of the NFL were on extremely unstable financial footing, which led to the idea that the arbitrary assignment of negotiating rights was vital to eliminate teams negotiating against each other. The fact that the scheme was to assign rights in the reverse order of the prior year’s standings was only because that was how the plan was proposed — by the owner of the last place team.
2. In the early days of the “draft,” NFL teams were more concerned with signing celebrated amateurs with “name appeal” from local schools than they were with acquiring the best talent. In the early days of the NFL, the college game was considered superior and many associated with the game at the college level wanted nothing to do with the professional version. With no paid scouts and the idea of a formal scouting combine almost five decades away, the primary focus of NFL teams when it came to bringing in new amateur players was to generate marketing buzz. How the players would contribute to the team’s ultimate success was secondary.
3. The Philadelphia Eagles, who had “earned” the first overall pick in the initial 1936 NFL draft by finishing last the year before failed to sign a single drafted player. The first overall selection, Jay Berwanger, a halfback out of the University of Chicago, elected to take a position with an area rubber company, rather than attempt a much more volatile vocation in the fledgling pro football industry. Similar circumstances surrounded the other eight players selected by Philadelphia in the nine-round draft.
4. The architect of the draft realized the reverse-standings concept was a mistake. Bert Bell, who was the Philadelphia owner that conceived of the original draft in 1935, became the commissioner of the league eleven years later. One of Bell’s first acts as commissioner was to institute a randomly rotating “bonus selection” that determined the first overall pick in the draft before the standard reverse-standings order proceeded. The winner of the first “bonus selection” lottery, and recipient of the first overall pick in the 1947 draft, was none other than the Chicago Bears — the reigning NFL champs! The Bears got the first overall pick in 1947 in addition to their regular pick at the end of the first round.
5. There has never been a single meaningful study conducted that supports the necessity or benefit of awarding draft picks in reverse order of the prior season’s standings. The happenstance 1935 evolution of the NFL draft served as the model casually adopted by the NBA during its inception in 1946, and again by the NHL in 1963, then finally by MLB (in a last-ditch effort to get spiraling amateur signing bonuses under control) in 1965.
6. As performance analytics have evolved, the misunderstood broken welfare system that is the reverse standings draft has increasingly been exploited to give us the Tanking Era in major league sports. More and more, teams are realizing early — or before the season even starts — that if they are not good enough to make a playoff run, there’s no sense in even trying. Who had the worst season in the NFL last year? Hint: It was not the 0-16 Cleveland Browns, whose ownership announced two years ago wins and losses were of no concern as they focused on stockpiling assets. In today’s misguided environment, the Detroit Lions, who went 9-7 last year, yet just fell short of the playoffs, had the worst season in the NFL. And the Cowboys, also at 9-7, were right behind them. Not only were they not rewarded with playoff spots, both teams were effectively penalized for making such a valiant effort by being sentenced to the 19th and 20th positions (worst of all non-playoff teams) in the draft. Under my plan to modify the draft to encourage competition and discourage tanking, the Lions would be picking No. 1 and the Cowboys No. 2 for never throwing in the towel on the season.