Integrins are validated drug targets with six approved therapeutics. However, small-molecule inhibitors to three integrins failed in late-stage clinical trials for chronic indications. Such unfavorable outcomes may in part be caused by partial agonism, i.e., the stabilization of the high-affinity, extended-open integrin conformation. Here, we show that the failed, small-molecule inhibitors of integrins αIIbβ3 and α4β1 stabilize the high-affinity conformation. Furthermore, we discovered a simple chemical feature present in multiple αIIbβ3 antagonists that stabilizes integrins in their bent-closed conformation. Closing inhibitors contain a polar nitrogen atom that stabilizes, via hydrogen bonds, a water molecule that intervenes between a serine residue and the metal in the metal-ion-dependent adhesion site (MIDAS). Expulsion of this water is a requisite for transition to the open conformation. This change in metal coordination is general to integrins, suggesting broad applicability of the drug-design principle to the integrin family, as validated with a distantly related integrin, α4β1.