The rallying cry #TankForTrevor began popping up on Vikings Twitter before the Week 1 debacle against the Packers was even over. And by the final whistle of the Week 2 fiasco against the Colts, the outcry had erupted, seeping into every crevice of the media landscape – social and otherwise. The cacophonous din of embarrassed, forlorn, angry voices was inescapable if you spent even a few moments listening to local radio stations review the dire state of the team with frustrated fans following a second consecutive display of relentless incompetence by Mike Zimmer’s squad.
A week ago, some of the voices in the “Tank for Trevor” movement were merely parroting the mantra with tongue firmly planted in cheek, trying to elicit some kind of reaction on social media or on the air. However, you got the sense that all traces of sarcasm were long gone following the Week 2 loss.
The “Tank for Trevor” or “Lose for Lawrence” or whatever-you-want-to-call-it movement is here to stay among all who observe Vikings football either as fans or as members of the media.
As an organization, it would be beneficial for the Vikings or any team that has no shot of making the playoffs – even with the field expanded from 12 to 14 teams as it is this season – to finish with the worst record they possibly can this season. In fact, if ever there was a season to totally flop as a team, 2020 is the season to take the fall. With a few exceptions, fans are not allowed in the stadiums, and opening the gates to normal capacity is unlikely this season. In other words, a poor product on the field isn’t going to hurt a team at this year’s ticket office.
More importantly, as the TFT mantra explicitly states, there’s a really, really good quarterback playing for Clemson right now who is already hardwired to be the first overall selection of the 2021 NFL Draft. And in case you hadn’t connected the dots yet, the team with the worst record in the NFL this season will have the golden opportunity to select him.
Trevor Lawrence is the “generational quarterback” in question, lest you hadn’t done your best Jim Rockford investigative work yet and reached that conclusion. He possesses an elite combination of blue-chip ability and a ready-made-for-marketing “it” factor at the most important position in professional sports. He’s a star who can transform a franchise overnight.
In other words, all those who are clamoring for their team to purposely suck the rest of the season since they’ve lost the first two games aren’t overreacting for once. This goes for Vikings fans as well as fans of the Lions, Jets, Giants, Broncos and Panthers.
The panic has a purpose. There’s a perfectly defensible endgame to the mania.
There’s only one problem with the TFT ideology, and it’s a pretty significant one: The Vikings themselves aren’t going to play along.
As an organization, yes, it makes sense to tank.
However, on an individual basis, from Zimmer on down to every last player on the roster, there’s zero incentive to do so.
Anyone who knows Zimmer or has even listened to him over the years realizes he’s a “win now” head coach. He’s 64 years old – the fourth-oldest head coach in the NFL – and if you think he has the appetite or patience to allow his team to purposely lose, you might need to switch up your medications. He only has so many years left of pacing the sidelines yelling at people and coaching up corners before he retires to his Kentucky ranch.
So, if he’s not going to acquiesce and be part of the plan, then fire him, right? That’s the solution some are already crying for. Play that string out, though. The only obvious head-coach-in-waiting on the current staff, Gary Kubiak, probably isn’t much more inclined to go with the flow on a tanking either. He’s 59 years old and likely wouldn’t mind having one more shot at being an NFL head coach, but captaining a sinking Vikings ship on an interim basis isn’t exactly the latest thing you want under the “Experience” header on the ol’ resume. Besides, his offense hasn’t exactly wowed anyone outside of the scripted opening series of both games or garbage time in Week 1. The unscripted portions have been about as inspiring as a sad trombone.
The answer is to let both of them go then, right?
That would work, but that also wouldn’t exactly reflect well on Rick Spielman, the guy who hired them, so he might be very reluctant to do so. Especially after only two games. Or even three or four.
Would the Wilfs step in then and make the executive decision to clean house and rid themselves of anyone who would stand in their way of embracing the suck for the balance of 2020? It would be within their rights. They own the team and can do what they want. However, they haven’t trespassed on the actual football side of the operation in the entire time they’ve owned the team. Such a drastic series of moves would seemingly be contradictory to their ownership philosophy.
Thus, any overt attempt to, in essence, “throw the season” for the greater good of the organization seems remote. A “hard tank” feels like a non-starter.
But what about a “soft tank”? What if certain veteran players were encouraged to take a seat or opt-out, as some have also suggested, and let the youngsters finish the season. That could lead to guaranteed losses. That could work.
Can you imagine how those conversations might go?
“Hey, Riley Reiff, I know you just took a big pay cut to avoid being released after we acquired Yannick Ngakoue. How about doing us another solid and opting out the rest of the season? You know, out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19 and stuff. A bunch of other players have done it. We’d just get Ezra Cleveland some more snaps that way. It will be good. What do you say, champ?”
Or how about…
“Hey Danielle Hunter, you know that tweaked neck of yours doesn’t look so good. It probably needs another three or four months to heal. Eric Sugarman said so. How about you just rest it until February?”
“Hey, Anthony Harris. Look, I know you’re going to be a free agent at the end of the season and are looking at a big payday in a competitive safety marketplace. There’s no need for you to enhance your value with more impressive film. Everyone already knows how good you are. How about we say that you ‘broke a finger’ or some other benign injury that won’t impact your value. Oh, and by the way, some finger injuries can take several months to heal. Sugarman said so.”
Or best of all…
“Hey, Kirk Cousins! Ol’ Kirky-Kirk! How’s it going, K-Cuz? By the way, you’re great in those Pizza Ranch commercials. Anyway, some of us were thinking maybe you should rest up for next year and take a breather for the rest of the season. What? No reason. We’re totally not tanking so we can draft your replacement and release you. Why would you think that?”
And on it would go.
Even if the Vikings didn’t do something obvious like resting veterans, the mere hint of tanking would not sit well with any professional athlete. Benching or giving extra plays off, running conservative plays or whatever other shenanigans a team might resort to in order to obscure tanking, wouldn’t fly with players. It’s their livelihood after all… and football careers don’t last very long. Expecting them to buy in is ludicrous.
Therefore, the “Tank for Trevor” movement that’s bubbling up in the Twin Cities and other 0-2 marketplaces across the NFL, while nice in theory, won’t really work in practice.
There exists a glimmer of hope for members of the TFT brigade though: Even if the Vikings don’t hard tank or soft tank, they might inadvertently tank. Maybe the first two games are just a preview of what’s ahead between now and January. Will they go winless? Highly unlikely. But maybe they’ll only beat the Lions, Jaguars and Panthers. Maybe they’ll finish with a bad enough record to be a top-three or top-five pick. On the surface, that doesn’t net you Lawrence. But remember: Nobody likes trading draft picks more than Spielman. If a currently winless team such as the Giants, Bengals or Texans were to land the top pick, are they really going to draft Lawrence? Each of those teams already has a young franchise quarterback. Instead, might they be looking to trade down a few spots and accumulate draft capital?
Tanking on purpose may not happen, but there’s more than one path to losing enough for Lawrence. Don’t give up hope.