The reasons why it would or wouldn’t work are numerous but the question is worth exploring.
NBA fans from every non-playoff team packed living rooms and bars last week in the hopes the ping pong balls would fall their way and deliver their team its new superstar. The NBA Draft Lottery hype around Duke freshman Zion Williamson has created a buzz the NBA hasn’t seen since Lebron James entered the league in 2003. That intrigue — and big marketing win — brings us to the question that pops up every year around this time: Should the NFL have a draft lottery?
The impetus for NBA to utilize the lottery system was to keep teams from tanking and losing to secure the first pick (or so) in the draft. Teams were willingly putting out bad line ups and sitting key players. The same has not occurred in the NFL.
The evidence of why the NFL doesn’t have the same problem as the NBA can be seen over the past few seasons where several teams (including the Raiders) have cost themselves draft position late in the season with the “meaningless” win. Non guaranteed contracts and the competition at each position keep NFL players from losing games just so your team may have a better chance to draft your replacement. The worst record getting the first pick is the NFL’s way of trying to get every team to be on a level playing field. The NFL has been about parity for more than two decades now. It works.
To be clear: I don’t want to see a draft lottery put into place, but I am curious how it would work if the NFL chose to implement one.
If you use the NBA model, this year’s first pick in the NFL draft would have gone to Jacksonville. If the draft is before free agency, would Jacksonville spend $50 million guaranteed on Nick Foles or would they kick the tires on Kyler Murray?
First and foremost, the NFL would have to decide how many teams would be available to be in the draft lottery. Would you put all 20 teams that don’t make the playoffs into the lottery? Imagine a team like Pittsburgh that barely misses the playoffs winning a lottery and pulling the first overall pick. Let’s say they cut that number in half and put the bottom 10 teams into the lottery. Do teams now try and tank because the difference in the value of the first pick and pick 11 could be franchising changing?
The next big wrinkle, and possibly the most important, is the timing of a hypothetical NFL draft lottery. I have been saying for years that the draft should be before free agency and a draft lottery may be the catalyst for this to happen. If you use the NBA model, this year’s first pick in the NFL draft would have gone to Jacksonville. If the draft is before free agency, would Jacksonville spend $50 million guaranteed on Nick Foles or would they kick the tires on Kyler Murray?
Would your Raiders spend $37 million guaranteed on Trent Brown, or look to get Jonah Williams with the seventh overall pick, which they would have received in the lottery system. Free agency isn’t the only thing that could be forever changed with a draft lottery, the trade market would also be impacted in a big way.
The NFL isn’t known for its player-for-player trades, which means most of the trades involve draft picks. Future first-round picks are often used to not only get a superstar player but also move up in the draft. Teams have always overvalued draft picks but with the rookie wage scale first round picks have an added premium.
Will teams be willing to trade future first rounders if there is a possibility the pick could wind up as the first overall simply because they missed playoffs? Would an NFL general manager survive trading a future first that turned into a pick that brings in a franchise quarterback for another team? Will the fear of the lottery slow down the trade market for not only players but also on draft day?
The NFL could find a way to turn a draft lottery into a huge TV ratings bonanza, but will they ever do it?
I don’t think we will see such a big change to a fundamental piece of the NFL landscape anytime soon. Giving the worst team the best chance to turn around their franchise is the key to parity the NFL seems to want. As fun as it would be, I don’t expect to be sitting around a television watching Roger Goodell pulling helmets out of envelopes to determine draft positions.
What do you think?
Feel free to hit me up at @raidingthedraft on Twitter with any thoughts or ideas on an NFL draft lottery. don’t want to see it happen, but I enjoy discussing the possibility.