Former Saints head coach Sean Payton believes the NFL Draft could undergo a major change in the near future.
During an interview with Colin Cowherd this weekPayton predicted the draft would eventually move to a lottery system where the NFL’s worst team wouldn’t necessarily end up with the first overall pick.
“At some point we’re going to move to a lottery system in the NFL,” Payton said.
The topic of the draft came up when Payton was asked about USC quarterback Caleb Williams, who he considers a “generational” player. With Williams being such an impressive prospect, Payton could imagine a situation where teams would try to tank him when he becomes draft-eligible in 2024, but a lottery would prevent that.
“[Williams] is a player who maybe does that [gets the NFL to switch to a lottery]where at the end of the season, here we are, call it week 14, and clubs start losing trying to get in [position to get the top pick]”, Payton said. “That hasn’t been a problem so far with our league as we know it. It very well could have been.”
If Payton says big change could be coming, it’s certainly worth listening to, and that’s because he spent four years (2017-21) on the NFL’s influential competition committee. If the league ever had conversations about moving to a lottery system, Payton would certainly know about it and he would know how serious the talks were.
As for tanking, the former Saints coach pointed to two situations where he knew teams were definitely tanking, and one of those situations actually involved a game he was coaching in. In 2014, the Buccaneers needed to lose their regular season finale to clinch the No. 1 overall pick, but they couldn’t even lose because they won 20-7 at halftime against the Payton’s Saints. In the second half, the Buccaneers benched almost all of their starters and the Saints came back to win the game 23-20.
“It happened at 1:00 p.m. in a little ladder game and it just disappeared in Tampa and we never talked about it,” Payton said.
The former Saints coach also pointed to the regular season finale between Philadelphia and Washington in 2020. In that game, the Eagles knew they were going to get the sixth overall pick if they lost, but they would drop to ninth. if they won. With Philadelphia trailing 17-14 in the third quarter, the Eagles clearly still had a chance to win, but that chance disappeared when they benched Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld, who had a disastrous performance in a 20 loss. -14.
“In 2020, the Eagles took their starting quarterback out and put him in Nate Sudfeld and everyone was like, ‘What are they doing?’ It was on ‘Sunday Night Football’ and it was a problem for the league,” Payton said. “It was a problem because Philly wanted to stay in sixth place in the draft, so there was nothing they were playing for.”
The Browns and Dolphins have also been accused of tanking, but the NFL has found no evidence to support those allegations.
Thing is, we’ve seen teams tank before and Payton even pointed out two examples, so a lottery might not be the worst idea. Commissioner Roger Goodell was actuallyand he didn’t really reject the idea.
“The competition committee talks about it, I would say, regularly,” Goodell said via Pro Football Talk. “I haven’t heard it for the past two years, but I never say any of that. There may come a time when we think it’s appropriate.”
In a lottery system, each team that does not make the playoffs would receive a ping pong ball and those balls would be placed in a lottery machine. The NFL would then pick a ball to determine who gets each pick from one through 18. The worst teams each year would have more ping pong balls to give them a better chance of getting the first pick, but there’s no guarantee that they would get this.
The lottery system would also mean that a team with a winning record from the previous season could theoretically get the top pick. For example, even though the Colts, Dolphins, Saints and Chargers finished 9-8 in 2021, they would still have been eligible for the top pick because they didn’t make the playoffs.
While Goodell didn’t sound like the NFL was looking to implement a lottery system anytime soon, Payton clearly feels differently. If he thinks it could be in place by the time Williams becomes draft eligible, that means he predicts it could happen as early as 2024.