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Next for the Bucs: Tanking (just don’t call it that)

Why the Bucs’ last eight games matter: It’s time to stop thinking about wins and losses and time to start thinking about “asset collection and evaluation.”

“Tanking” is such a dirty word. But that doesn’t mean the Buccaneers shouldn’t do it.

Before you fire off an email that cites Herm Edwards and his legendary “You play to win the game” rant, hear me out: Tampa Bay has tanked before. The Bucs have played to not win the game. You remember what happened in their 2014 finale, don’t you? A refresher, courtesy of Mike Evans, one of the NFL’s fiercest competitors: “The whole second half I didn’t play. They just pulled me. I was gassed.”

“Gassed.” Gotcha. Wink, wink.

It’s time to face the truth the organization has avoided since January: The playoffs aren’t happening. It has been nearly 50 years since a team overcame a 2-6 start to make the playoffs (the 1970 Bengals).

Wins this season don’t matter. In fact, they’re harmful.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting the Bucs should lose on purpose. I’m merely suggesting that winning shouldn’t be the No. 1 priority.

Before I get to what they should do, we have a word problem to solve. Presentation matters. The NBA understands that. That’s how “load management” became a popular phrase. “Rest” triggers people, especially fans paying good money to see their favorite players.

With that in mind, I suggest we strike “tanking” from our vocabulary. The point of the next eight games isn’t to win as many games as possible or to establish a culture. Wins won’t carry over to next season, and there’s no guarantee, especially if there’s a lot of coach and player turnover, that the culture will either. Nor is the point of the next eight games to lose as many games as possible. No, the next eight games are about … “asset collection and management.”

It’s the perfect justification, besides poor performance, for benching Vernon Hargreaves, who has allowed a 113.3 passer rating. Or for benching Ndamukong Suh, who has been outplayed by William Gholston and might not be back next season anyway. Or for cutting Breshad Perriman, whom the Bucs keep trying to make their No. 3 receiver despite having a better option in O.J. Howard. Or for allowing defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to blitz 100 percent of the time instead of just 75 percent. The organization’s focus needs to be the players who might help it win games in the future, not the present.

If Tampa Bay loses a game or two or eight, well, then so be it. The reward: higher positioning in the 2020 NFL draft. The Bucs could choose to keep those picks, or they could trade them for more picks.

I’ve heard the counterargument: Tampa Bay might as well win because the draft doesn’t matter. The Bucs will find a way to screw it up. That’s actually an argument in favor of adding draft capital. They need more swings at the piñata, not fewer.

No one’s guaranteed tomorrow, but while we’re here, shouldn’t we consider how to make tomorrow better even if we might not around to benefit from it?

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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