It’s Lottery Time in the NFL

By the look of it, having three picks in the first round of the 2019 draft isn't good enough for Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders. They desperately want one of them — their own — to be the draft's No. 1 overall pick.

On Thursday night, the Raiders celebrated Halloween one day late by allowing Nick Mullens, who went undrafted in 2017 and lolled around on the practice squad for a season and a half, to go 16-for-22 for 262 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-3 loss by Oakland at San Francisco — oops, I mean Santa Clara. That's 151.9 on your FM dial, passer-rating-wise, and the highest such rating for a quarterback making his first pro start since at least the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

And remember that this is the same 49ers team that accounts for the 2 in the 2-6 record of the Arizona Cardinals, and that John York could have inquired about what the Eagles wanted for Super Bowl XLII hero Nick Foles after Jimmy Garoppolo went down, but never did.

And then there are the New York Giants, now tied with the Raiders for the worst record in the league, who conveniently traded two defensive starters - cornerback Eli Apple and nose tackle Damon Harrison - during the week before the trading deadline.

If it waddles like a tank and quacks like a tank, it must be a tank. And what about the season ticket holders of these teams? Aren't they entitled to an honest effort, or a refund?

In 1985, the NBA sought to nip this problem in the bud by implementing a lottery to determine the selection order among the seven teams that did not make the playoffs (in the previous 14 years, a coin flip was held between the teams that finished with the worst records in the Eastern and Western Conferences, and the last-place teams in the Eastern and Western Divisions prior to that, to decide the top pick).

That lottery, of course, was won by the Knicks, who had the third worst record in the 1984-85 season, with the Knicks using the pick on Georgetown center Patrick Ewing, unanimously regarded to be head-and-shoulders (no pun intended because Ewing is 7'0") above the rest of that year's draft class, prompting cynics to accuse the NBA of rigging the lottery so that their largest market would get Ewing.

This was a flat lottery, in which all of the seven non-playoff teams had an equal chance at getting the first pick, and each of the seven non-playoff teams had an equal chance at getting the seventh pick. Starting with the 1990 lottery a Pythagorean "weighting" method was employed, since modified twice, with a third modification to take effect with the 2019 lottery.

It is the 1985-89 NBA format that the NFL needs to go to — and for those who think that's too harsh, four points are in order.

First, the vast majority of teams who are out of contention come December or even November do things a contender would never do, namely, conveniently "shut down" their starting quarterback or some other important player(s) for the rest of the season; for this reason the bottom of the standings seldom reflect the level of putative "talent" possessed by the various teams at the bottom.

Second, if a 10-6 team that did not make the playoffs wins the lottery (or even moves up sharply from where their record would have entitled them to draft) in the same year that an 8-8 team did make the playoffs, wouldn't that be poetic justice? (And it happened in the NBA in 1993, when the Magic, who did not make the playoffs, but finished one game ahead of the Lakers, who did make it, won the lottery despite the "weighting" and drafted Shaquille O'Neal, prompting the NBA to make the first of its modifications of the "weighting" procedure).

Third, why should a team be rewarded with a higher draft pick because of an injury? The only reason Ezekiel Elliott has that star on his helmet is because Tony Romo got injured the year before. And fourth, the lottery would determine the draft order for the first round only; from the second round onward the selections of the 20 non-playoff teams would continue to be determined strictly by record.

The way the NFL draft is structured now, it's "You take the high road and I'll take the low road, and I will be drafting before you." It's time to change that tune, and change it drastically.

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