Should Jets tank remainder of 2023 season for a higher draft pick?

Should Jets tank?
New York Jets place kicker Greg Zuerlein (9) is congratulated by teammates after kicking a field goal against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

It’s the age-old question in sports – one that the New York Jets have struggled with over the last 13 seasons. 

Should struggling teams try to lose the remainder of their games after a slide of ineptitude?

In modern terms, should the Jets tank the rest of the 2023 season at 4-7?

The idea may seem absurd considering where New York started their season, but unfortunate events have led them to this point. Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles four plays into his Gang Green debut, Alijah Vera-Tucker was lost for the season at the same place the previous year was wasted, and the rest of the offensive line has been decimated with additional injuries. 

New York has lost four straight games with additional contests against playoff-centric teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, and Miami Dolphins on the horizon. Now on their third QB of the season, the outlook is bleak for the Jets to turn around their season and end a 13-year playoff drought. 

There are downsides and positives to tanking in the NFL. What New York should do in the coming weeks won’t be as simple as a yes or no solution. Today, AMNew York dissects what the franchise should do over the next month. 

The Pros of Tanking
Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars take on the Chiefs
Trevor Lawrence (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

History shows that tanking works in the NFL. A poor run at the end of the year may be bad for morale between the fanbase and locker room, but the benefits of doing so could change the future outlook of the franchise for years to come. 

The 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars finished the season at 1-15 – one game worse than the Jets – and ended up winning the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Since drafting Lawrence first overall, the Jaguars have won a playoff game and are on the path to winning the AFC South for back-to-back seasons. The course of their franchise has changed significantly due to their ability to tank for a top player of their choice. 

Other teams have found the benefits of tanking as well. The Philadelphia Eagles openly tanked the final game of the 2020 season when they benched rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld. Sudfeld’s exploits cost the team the win, but it gave the Eagles the sixth overall pick in the draft that year. Philadelphia traded back with the sixth pick, added a first-round pick the next year, and bolstered the roster to the point that they have become one of the more dominant teams in football now. 

Previous historical examples show that purposely losing games late in the year helps as well. In the late ’80s, the Buffalo Bills used back-to-back 2-14 seasons to usher in a run of dominance the franchise had not seen or had since. In the ’70s, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers that used decades of poor play to build the greatest dynasty in NFL history. 

All these are examples of why tanking works. Luckily for the Jets, if they decide to purposefully lose the remainder of their games, they would set themselves up with a top overall selection. It won’t be the first overall selection but with a class as talented as the 2024 group expects to be, New York could set themselves up for a major increase in talent – whether it be with a blue-chip talent, or trading back and getting a king’s ransom. 

With Rodgers expected back next season, adding a player like Marvin Harrison Jr., Olu Fashanu, or Joe Alt could systemically change life for the Jets next season. 

The Cons of Tanking
Jets need an offensive overhaul to save their season
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) walks on the field during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Tanking is easy for bad teams. Successfully executing a year of tanking is something entirely different. 

When it comes to that fact, the Jets are the franchise that repeatedly has to be reminded. New York failed to fully tank the 2020 season and missed out on Lawrence. Instead of acing the draft with the second overall pick, Gang Green chose Zach Wilson and that certainly hasn’t worked out. 

Even if the Jets were to lose the rest of the season and acquire a top overall pick, they still need to hit on said pick. 

There’s a bigger reason why New York’s tanking question is more complex. Young stars like Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Quinnen Williams have only experienced losing in the halls of 1 Jets Drive. To purposefully lose the rest of the way means to question the hard work that players put in every day. With veterans like C.J. Mosley and D.J. Reed also on the roster, to tank games would be to send a message that winning is not the first thing on the mind of the organization – a huge detriment to potential free agents looking for a new home in Florham Park.

Then there is the Rodgers factor. 

On Pat McAfee’s show Tuesday afternoon, the four-time NFL MVP was coy about potentially returning this season following his torn Achilles. It was the first time all year on the show that the future Hall-of-Famer did not openly tease a potential miracle return.

“There’s a natural progression to the rehab and that involves getting back on the field and doing some things that are more football-related,” Rodgers said on the show. “Obviously, I still need to get cleared by everybody at that point. But it’s health first and then can I play, are we alive for the playoffs second.”

Rodgers not returning may change the idea of what the Jets should do when it comes to tanking, but not the way many think. When he came to the Jets during the offseason, Rodgers was sold on the idea and message that was being sent by both head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas. What happens if the team openly starts losing – a clear difference from what was being said during the offseason? Perhaps it leaves a sour taste in the quarterback’s mouth and he ends up retiring after the season anyway. 

Should that happen, it doesn’t matter if the Jets tank or not – it would be a catastrophic conclusion to the last few seasons. 

What should the Jets do?
Can Jets acquire Marvin Harrison Jr.?
Marvin Harrison Jr warming up before playing MarylandWikimedia Commons

Would the Jets piss off their locker room or Hall-of-Fame quarterback for the sake of a better draft pick? 

In the end, New York has to do what is best for the future health of the organization. If that means improving their draft stock to get a top player in 2024, they will certainly do so. Tanking isn’t even an unforeseen idea with Rodgers on the roster either. Back in 2018, the Green Bay Packers lost five of their last seven seasons. With the top-15 pick they acquired from that lost year, they were able to bring in Rashan Gary – one of the better players on the current roster. 

Tanking works – it’s just a matter of executing properly. 

Ultimately, it may not be up to Saleh and Douglas to push for a higher pick. The worse the injury situation gets for New York’s offense, the more the losses are going to pile up anyway. They may not even openly have to tank to attain a top-five pick the way the organization is playing at the moment. 

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