Nothing motivates the NFL quite like the possibility of more free money and publicity. Especially when you throw a threatening lawsuit into the mix.
That is why as we count down the hours until Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery, it feels inevitable there will eventually be one for professional football — and it will be even bigger and badder.
The league will probably bob and weave past Brian Flores’ tanking allegations without significant damage and embarrassment. But it will still want to tamp down a vulnerability. The NFL also knows how big the draft-industrial complex has become, and how even the simplest offseason matter — its schedule release — can drown out the NBA and NHL playoffs and Major League Baseball’s regular season.
A draft lottery makes too much sense. Which is likely why Roger Goodell has already begun laying the foundation.
“I never say never about any of those things. It may come a time where we think it’s appropriate,” the NFL commissioner said during a Sirius/XM Radio interview in late April.
It’s not tough to envision how it would work. The NFL would secure a midweek primetime slot in the slow time between the Super Bowl and scouting combine. If it really wanted to flex, it would push the league schedule back a few weeks to steal oxygen from March Madness because it can.
Cities would bid to host the event and the fans from across the country (and world) that would undoubtedly attend. The league’s nugget merchants would race to break news on who would represent each lottery team — the Bears are sending Mike Ditka! — and the TV partners would shell out big bucks for broadcast rights. And then Goodell would come out, get booed, make a few awkward jokes and then start opening envelopes.
The NFL would have more built-in interest with 18 lottery teams to the NBA’s 14. And why no one really cares about draft position in the NBA outside the first few picks, the NFL already places colossal importance on each slot. That would mean excitement and suspense up and down the board. And imagine if the league broke from the NBA and allowed teams to trade some or all of their ping-pong balls?
That wrinkle must happen, by the way. We need to see the world burn after Bill Belichick and the Patriots get the No. 1 pick after two years of flipping veterans and draft picks for future ping-pong balls. It would also be a game-changer for teams like the 2022 Giants.
Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen wouldn’t need to stress an extra win or two if they decide to move on from Daniel Jones. They could just hoover up ping-pong balls from teams down the line. That would give them the same chance for a high pick as teams with worst records. The NFL could also revamp the compensation pick formula to include lottery boosts as well.
A draft lottery is never going to fully eliminate tanking. The only system that does that is European soccer-style promotion and relegation, and that will obviously never happen. The NFL’s worst teams will always be incentivized to keep losing once their season is lost. But a draft lottery would take the certainty out of the equation — and generate more league-wide excitement. And most importantly, it would mean a hell of a lot more money in the coffers.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]