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Are The Miami Dolphins Losing In Order To Get A Better Draft Pick?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I guarantee it. This is one week on the NFL schedule where the Miami Dolphins will not lose. That's only because they're not playing. The Dolphins have lost their first four games - not just lost but lost badly by staggering margins. Not exactly a fun time to be a Dolphins fan, but commentator Mike Pesca says this is actually part of a strategy.

MIKE PESCA: The Miami Dolphins are what football experts call terrible. In fact, they are historically awful. The team is winless. They've been outscored 81-0 in the second halves of games. They have scored 26 points this entire season but given up 40 points per game, meaning the average Dolphins score this year has been a loss by a tally of 41-6. The dolphins are no strangers to the tank. A player named Tank Carradine was signed then released two times by the Dolphins this year. Also for the first three years of their existence, the Dolphins had a live mascot swimming in a tank in their stadium. But those aren't the tanks that we're talking about. In the Dolphins' case, tanking means trying to lose in order to get a better draft spot, which are awarded by inverse order of finish. And the Fins were finished before the season started.

Tanking is a viable strategy throughout sports. The Houston Astros won a World Series thanks to tanking. The Philadelphia 76ers are regarded by Las Vegas as the fourth most likely team to win a championship largely thanks to tanking. Baseball, this season, offered more tanking than the 3rd Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge. A record-setting four teams lost more than 100 games, which doesn't just happen. Tanking is intentional, which is why it is seen as a shameful act to be publicly disavowed despite plenty of evidence that it's sound strategy.

But in football, tanking is different. The physicality of the sport renders it dangerous. There is no whimsy in a play poorly defended. There is peril. When an outfielder misses the cutoff man, it's an error. If a lineman misses a blocking assignment, it's a health risk. Football, when played by compensated professionals, is just this side of the knife's edge between rough and wanton.

Plenty of former fans have turned away because of the inherent risks and inevitable maimings. It's not as if the individual players on a tanking team aren't trying. It's just that management strategy is to field a team with little regard to player quality. It is a chain assembled from the weakest links around, and that's a chain that will break.

We've never seen an NFL team that is tanking as badly as the Dolphins. Their strategy isn't just poor sportsmanship. The Dolphins' experiment is, in a word, dangerous; in two words, borderline immoral. If a Dolphins player were to be seriously hurt in the pursuit of an exploitable quirk in the draft rules, that injury will be on the conscience of everyone in management in the league office who did nothing to forestall a season of purposeful losses.

Of course, there still may be some joy in Miami. ESPN has a statistical model that predicts the team will finish with not one but two wins. And one could come at the expense of the Washington Redskins, who are also winless and travel to Miami in a week. The Redskins are a terrible team, too, with quarterback questions and a porous defense. Their ineptitude, however, is come by honestly. They're trying to win. They just can't. You may wonder which model of failure is worse. But the answer is clear. The football the Redskins are playing is wretched. The kind of football the Dolphins are playing is wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF TERRACE MARTIN'S "NEVA HAFTA WURRY BOUT DAT")

GREENE: Commentator Mike Pesca. He hosts the Slate podcast "The Gist."

(SOUNDBITE OF TERRACE MARTIN'S "NEVA HAFTA WURRY BOUT DAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.