Whenever there is a top talent available in the NBA draft teams that do not have a shot to make a deep run in the playoffs intentionally lose games to acquire those players. The Cleveland Cavaliers tanked during the 2002-2003 season to increase their odds to draft LeBron James; The Boston Celtics tanked in the 2006-2007 season in order to increase their odds to draft either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Most recently the Philadelphia 76ers are the most recent team to tank their way to top draft pick. Cleveland was able to land LeBron James with the number one overall pick and eventually won the NBA championship last season. Boston did not land Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in the 2007 draft but did parlay the number five selection into Ray Allen, Boston also traded budding star player Al Jefferson (along with six other players and picks) for Kevin Garnett. These sets of trades let to Boston winning the 2008 Finals. The 76ers are still in the middle of their “process” and have yet to make the playoffs after tanking the past four years. Tanking in the NBA requires two things: luck and a star player. NBA draft order is determined by a lottery system that allows all the non-playoff teams a chance for the number one pick. Having the worst record does not guarantee the top selection. Picking in the lottery also requires a star player to be available. LeBron James, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant were all obvious top selections (Greg Oden was an outstanding collegiate player but injuries ended Oden career). In the three years since Tanking the 76ers have yet to draft a star player. One could argue Joel Embiid as a star but Embiid is injury prone.
Major League Baseball has only recently embraced tanking. The Houston Astros are the first team in baseball to attempt tanking. In 2010 the Astros were an aging expensive team that was desperately hanging on to their successful past. General Manager Jeff Luhnow dismantled the team by trading away veterans for prospects and signing young players (that weren’t very good). In 2011 Houston set a team record by being the first Astro team to lose more than 100 games. In 2012 and 2013 the Astros lost more than 100 games; being the first non-expansion team to lose more than 100 games three seasons in a row. After acquiring young players, and drafting young talent the Astros made the post-season in 2015 and won another 84 games last season (the AL West was extremely competitive last season).
NFL teams have been adamant about not tanking due to the NFL draft being random. Having a top five pick does not guarantee a top player. Tom Brady is the greatest Quarterback in the history of the NFL and was drafted in the sixth round. Acquiring more draft selections leads to an increased chances of drafting good players. Trading away players for picks, trading down in the NFL draft and letting free agents walk (acquiring compensatory picks along the way) are the only way that NFL teams can acquire more picks. In the early 90’s the Dallas Cowboys built a dynasty that won three Super Bowls. Those early 90’s Cowboys are one of the biggest what if stories in the NFL. If Jimmy Johnson would have stayed in Dallas just how many Super Bowls could the Cowboys have won? The Patriots have built a modern dynasty through the draft. Belichick acquires good players through the draft, sells high, and acquires more picks. The difference between the Cowboys and the Patriots is that the Patriots use the extra picks as ammunition to acquire veteran players and the Cowboys used those picks in the draft.
If teams like the Browns, Jaguars, Bears and 49ers are losing games while attempting to win then why not trade veterans for picks, sign young players and tank. Losing would provide the franchise with high draft picks that can be traded down for more picks. The NFL draft can be compared to slot machines at a Casino. Putting a few coins in the machine may lead to a jackpot, but the odds of that happening are small. Putting several coins into a slot machine will statistically lead a player to a jackpot. Without publically using the words tank then Cleveland Browns are attempting this strategy.
The Brown had twelve selections in the 2015 NFL Draft yielding two starters in Nose Tackle Danny Shelton, Center/Guard Cameron Erving and contributors Nate Orchard and Duke Johnson. Last season in 2016 the Browns had fourteen selections leading to two starters: Wide receiver Corey Coleman and Defensive end Emmanuel Oghah. Several more players from the 2016 draft class played meaningful snaps last season: Quarterback Cody Kessler, Carl Nassib, Ricardo Louis, and Spencer Drago. In the upcoming draft, the Browns will have eleven picks including the number one overall pick. This will be the third year in a row that Cleveland will have the most selections. Barring any trades, the Browns are also slated to have nine picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. With all these picks Cleveland is tanking their way to become successful.