NFL: What if teams were allowed to trade regular season wins?

Seeing all the recent hubbub about Deshaun Watson potentially being put on the trading block, and how it might cost suitors up to 3 future first round picks to land Watson, has got me wondering:

What if teams were allowed to use regular season wins as trade bait?

For example, the Texans agree to trade Watson to the 49ers in exchange for two regular season wins, over each of the next three seasons. Then, in 2021 if the 49ers finish with a record of 14-3 and the Texans finish with a record of 9-8, two wins will be subtracted from the 49ers and added to the Texans’s total, making their records 12-5 and 11-6 respectively.

  • In 2022, if the 49ers finish with a record of 10-7 and the Texans finish with a record of 11-6, their records will be adjusted to 8-9 and 13-4 respectively.

  • In 2023, if the 49ers finish with a record of 6-11 and the Texans finish with a record of 15-2, their records will be adjusted to 4-13 and 17-0 respectively.

A team would only be allowed to give up as many regular season wins as they had that season. Taking the above hypothetical trade as an example, if the 49ers have a record of 1-16, they can only give one win to the Texans, even though the trade specified two wins per season. Along similar lines, if the Texans have a record of 16-1, they can only add one win to reach 17-0.

The number of wins per season, as well as the number of seasons the contract is valid for, can be negotiated between the general managers of the two teams.

What do you guys think of this idea? Would it make NFL trades and the offseason more interesting, or am I high on acid?

The latter. If you made wins transactional this ceases to be a sport.

Even if you were to ignore that, how can you trade things you don’t have? Neither the Texans nor the 49ers have any wins in the future yet. Wins aren’t guaranteed; not long ago the Cleveland Browns went 1-31 over two seasons. You sort of covered that, but let’s say the 49ers trade for Watson and give the Texans 8 wins over 2 seasons. Then they go 3-13 next year, and 2-14 the year after. What happens to the wins they owed, are they now gone?

Wow I could go on and on about how bad this is. I’m sure you weren’t even serious about this though, I don’t see how anyone who knew anything about sports (let alone football) could be serious.

That’s the risk of the trade, this makes a GM consider how many wins adding a generational player in the most important position is worth.

Yes, if by 8 wins over 2 seasons you mean 4 wins per season, then the 49ers’s records become 0-17 and 0-17. (The NFL starts the 17-game schedule in the 2021 season). The Texans only get 3 wins added the first year, and 2 wins added the second year.

I was semi-serious about this idea; I at least just wanted to hear some spirited discussion on how it might change the NFL trading landscape and how many wins would be the equivalent of giving up one first-round pick.

I don’t like the idea at all. Even if the teams could settle on the relative value of a win (for trade purposes), it would wind up devaluing the actual outcomes of the games themselves, particularly if a team with a serious “win for today” mindset bought a bunch of wins this year by trading away their draft choices for the future. For a hypothetical example, why should the Packers, Vikings, and Lions even try to win, when the Bears have traded away their drafts for the next four years to buy 8 wins out of the gate?

Of the four major North American sports leagues, the NFL has managed to achieve the best level of competitive balance. It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than, say, MLB, where the difference in income level between big-market and small-market teams is enormous. I don’t see any good reason for the NFL to go down this path.

I think it would be bad just for psychological reasons. It’s important that once a game is won or lost, the outcome is permanently in the books and irreversible. Making wins transactional would mean fans couldn’t be assured that any win would “count” since it could be traded away.

Good point, perhaps the league can put a cap on how many wins can be added to a season, maybe 4?

Now that you mention it, this idea does seem more suited for the MLB where the big city teams with the large payrolls are well-positioned to lure stars away from smaller markets.

This is true, and ideally this type of trade should only be allowed in the offseason (so it can’t affect the results of an ongoing season), and wins cannot be taken away from previously completed seasons, only future seasons.

Another complication would lie in the realm of tiebreakers. Which opponents a team defeated is very important in the tiebreaking process. If the Packers and Bears are tied for the division lead at 11-5, but two of the Packers’ wins weren’t actually true wins, but wins acquired by trading away some draft picks, how does that work? The Bears might have a better division or conference record via legit wins.

In such a case, where a team has already chosen to “tank” for the next season, and already traded away the maximum number of allowable games, you’re going to wind up with a team full of players who are dispirited and want out, since their chance of even making the playoffs in the upcoming season is near zero, even before the season begins. How hard are they going to play, when their team has already mortgaged away four of their wins?

In addition to all the good points already made …

The process of post-season seeding and tiebreaking is heavily dependent not on wins as wins, but on wins against who. The OP’s proposal would turn all that inside out.

The other problem I have is that a win is too big a denomination to pay for a single player. There needs to be a better way to make “change” using a thing of smaller value. Need a field goal at a clutch moment? Should you buy a vowel or call a friend? Nope. Just pull one out of the wallet of 4 field goals you got for some trade last year and have the refs tack it onto your score.

This whole concept is one step removed from Calvinball. And no, that’s not a compliment.

Not sure of a good way to sort this one out. Maybe the team that traded away the wins (49ers in my original example) can pick which losses to flip for the Texans, and which wins to flip for themselves, at the conclusion of the regular season.

But isn’t this already happening with teams like the Jets and the Jaguars who were pretty much openly tanking the 2020 season for a chance at the #1 draft pick? The only thing that would motivate players in these kind of situations is getting good game tape to show their future employers.

To a certain extent, yes. Your proposal would likely exacerbate it, and increase the issue with tanking, similar to what the NBA has experienced.

Assuming the NFL still runs the Draft in a way that the worst team picks first, this would actually be a perverse incentive. The Niners would actually improve their drafting position by trading away wins.

At 4-13, they might be drafting third or fourth in the Draft. But by trading away wins, they fall even lower to 0-17, which might guarantee them the No. 1 overall pick.

Hmm, I hadn’t considered the downstream effects this idea might have on the draft. I guess more rules are needed to seal off any loopholes that teams find.

But think about it:

  • If a team traded away future wins in order to get a superstar player, presumably they are in win-now mode and it wouldn’t make sense to do poorly just so they can draft higher. Their GM thought that by acquiring this superstar, they will net more wins than they gave up to the other team.

  • If a team traded away future wins to get more draft picks, then the chickens will come home to roost when the draft picks turn out to be studs, but the team gets hamstrung by the wins that get sucked away. This is another thing the GM has to take into consideration before pulling the trigger on such a trade.

IME, you trip balls on acid.

The idea is interesting, for sure.

It is ridden with all sorts of unintentional perverse consequences, but is still interesting to ponder how it would affect team strategies.

Such a strategy might still be appealing if a team believed that it was so thoroughly hopeless and miserable that it had nothing to look forward to but at least 2-3 bleak seasons ahead - a team totally devoid of any useful talent.

In such a scenario, a team would have every reason to trade away multiple wins for the next 2 seasons or so. Doing so could net you the overall No. 1 pick in the NFL for three consecutive Drafts (!), along with who-knows how many other good picks.

You’d suck for two seasons at least, but you’d be totally rebuilding your team up from the bottom up with top-notch quality draft picks. You could have the best rookie quarterback, best rookie defensive back, best rookie lineman, etc. And then after enduring 2-3 seasons of suckitude you’d be poised to be a championship contender for an entire decade.

Only problem is that you’d see fan-derived revenue plummet drastically for two seasons as they recognized not only that you weren’t trying to win but didn’t even want to win. Don’t know if your team finances could sustain that big hit. Remember that it’s not enough to just be under the salary cap; you actually have to have the money to pay them.

Speaking of the salary cap, if you drafted that many superstars, they might all demand big contracts which you couldn’t afford.

Great points, Velocity.

My conjecture is that if a team is truly this bad, and this transparent about their intentions, the GMs of other teams will correspondingly value this team’s future wins less, perhaps even refusing to take future wins as payment for the deal.

This is currently the best argument I’ve seen against my proposal. But hey, if the Browns can stumble in the darkness for a decade and still survive until the Baker Mayfield-led revival, I think teams can weather any storm.

Trade one of those superstars for another team’s future wins :wink:

Bad idea. The object is for the best teams to be in the playoffs. Even if a team does “buy” its way into the playoffs and somehow win the Super Bowl, there will always be an asterisk involved. Also, does a bad team sell wins in order to get a better draft choice, or does the NFL not allow that, in which case, why bother?

It was bad enough when NASCAR did something like this during its “top 35 in the owners’ points automatically qualify, and points from the previous season are used for the Daytona 500” years, when teams could, in effect, buy and sell points between seasons.

NFL rosters churn pretty rapidly from season to season (and even within a season). There are enough examples of teams going from cellar to playoffs from one season to the next to suggest that, if a team’s management believes that not only do they suck now, but will suck for several years to come, it’s a failure of management.

And, not only does the NFL have a salary cap, it also has a salary floor. Even if you have a team composed solely of replacement-level players, you still need to have a total team payroll of something like 89% of the cap number.

In my reply to Velocity, I said that more rules are likely needed to prevent abuse of this. If no rules are present, then other GMs will be hesitant to accept wins from a bad team. These can be hashed out during the NFL Competition Committee’s annual meetings.

This is an interesting example which I was not aware of. Will read up on it, thanks.