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Redskins Fumbling Reward For A Lost Season

Beating the Giants felt good, but it may have cost Washington a draft pick high enough to pick Robert Griffin, III or Matt Barkley. Patrick Green/ Icon SMI

In the classic style of Washington professional sports teams, the Redskins have waited until the competitive portion of their season is over to start playing well. With the promise of a high draft pick dangling just around the corner, with nothing of any meaning left to play for, the Skins broke out their A-game Sunday, and walloped the New York Giants 23-10.

I hate being a fan who roots for the team to lose. If they're keeping score, I want to win. Unfortunately, Washington's poor performance this season, and their desperate need for a quality quarterback has created a situation where the franchise would likely win in the long-term by losing in the short-term.

The Redskins seem to have drawn inspiration from the Washington Wizards -- a chronically bad team that usually manages an April surge that gives fans false hope. Wizards forward Andray Blatche is perhaps Washington's all-time leader in high-quality performances in meaningless games at the end of lost seasons. Hence the nickname "April Fool's Dray."

The problem, of course, is the way leagues award draft position. The worst teams get the highest picks under the theory that getting an opportunity to pick up the best new talent will enable those bad teams to win more in subsequent years. The correlation between draft position and getting the best players is strongest in the NBA, but much weaker in football.

I'm setting aside baseball and hockey because those leagues have fundamentally different drafts. In both those sports, teams are  picking high schoolers. Even the college kids selected are usually sent to a minor league system dedicated to that one specific team. The NFL has no minor league system. In the NBA, franchises share D-League roster space and there's little to no connection between the offensive and defensive systems run by the D-League coach and those run by the NBA parent team.

The NBA sought to minimize tanking by introducing the draft lottery. Their initial version -- in which every non-playoff team had an equal chance at any "lottery" pick -- actually eliminated any incentive to tank. In the lottery, a team that barely missed the playoffs was the same as a team that lost 60 games. But, when bad teams weren't getting the top picks, the lottery system was deemed "unfair" and the league went to a weighted system -- by record. And so returned the incentive to tank.

In the NFL, tanking hasn't been much of an issue. This year, the presence of Stanford QB Andrew Luck, as well as a cadre of top-shelf QB prospects, as well as the usual assortment of high-quality prospects at other positions has made the top pick even more attractive than usual. Couple that with new rules that will limit the amount draftees get paid, and the incentive for tanking has never been stronger.

Solutions? The NFL could implement a draft lottery in which all non-playoff teams have equal odds of getting the top pick. Another possibility could be to compare average scoring margins for teams once they've been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. This would theoretically reward teams that play hard, get better, and actually win games at the end of the season. But, it's kinda convoluted and confusing. Someone smarter than I am could likely come up with a system that eliminates incentives for tanking. It's something the league should be looking at -- tanking is likely to become more common under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Back to the Redskins. Going into the Giants game, Washington was on track for the 4th or 5th pick in the draft -- prime position to end up with Robert Griffin, III or Matt Barkley. The win will likely move them back to 8th or 9th, which may prevent them from taking one of the upper-echelon QBs unless they can trade up. With a probable win against the Vikings Christmas Eve, the Redskins could move down even further into the 12-13 range. If they beat the Eagles in the finale, they'd end the season 7-9 and would end up picking somewhere in the 14-16 range.

Was it nice to see the Skins play well against the Giants? Sure. But make no mistake: that was a costly win for the franchise's long-term prospects.

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