- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The independent investigation into former Browns head coach Hue Jackson’s claims that the team financially incentivized losing games during his Cleveland tenure ended with no evidence that supported Jackson. A new and detailed report on the investigation and the claims has come out in the wake of Monday’s dismissal of the claims.
Gary Gramling and Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated wrote a lengthy investigative report on the entire case. While many Browns fans knew quite a bit of the grisly details before, it’s still a good read and a worthy refresher of how far the team has come from the time when Jackson went 3-36-1 as the team’s head coach with a substantially inferior roster to what the team fields today.
Here are some of the takeaways from their informative piece and on the overall Browns situation with Jackson.
Jackson's participation in the case was half-hearted
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Ever since Jackson alleged the Browns incentivized “tanking” in the wake of the lawsuit former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed against the NFL, the ex-Browns coach hasn’t exactly defended his claims with much vigor publicly. He didn’t do so in the arbitration hearing either.
Jackson was not present for the hearing in Cleveland. He also chose to not pursue a lawsuit that would have potentially circumvented the arbitrator’s decision. He has walked back the claims of being paid to lose in several public forums, too.
The Browns plan did indeed involve lots of losing
Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
In several instances in the Sports Illustrated piece, there is reference to the “Four-Year Plan” that was a centerpiece of Jackson’s claim that the team incentivized losing games. One part of the document that is the Four-Year Plan was included in the article, and it does lay out the Browns having a young team that would rack up far more early-round draft picks than normal after the 2016 season. It also paid a listed bonus level for not spending money in free agency so that the monies not spent would carry over into subsequent years.
While not technically “tanking”, those organizational values created by former GM Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta (still in that capacity with the team) sure made building a competitive roster more difficult in 2016 and 2017. It’s a much more common approach in baseball, where DePodesta came from, and basketball than it is in football.
The plan subsequently incentivized winning
The Four-Year Plan did switch into “win” mode for the 2018 season. The bonus structure and incentives laid out in the document Sports Illustrated obtained and included in their feature make that very clear. And that’s where Jackson’s claims really fell apart even if they might have had some merit prior to that.
Jackson was dismissed after a 2-5-1 start in 2018. His replacement, interim head coach Gregg Williams, immediately turned around the team with a 5-3 finish. The Browns defense radically improved almost immediately under Williams, and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 19 touchdowns in the final eight games. after tossing just seven in the first six he played under Jackson.
The sudden turnaround once Jackson was fired made it clear that his coaching was culpably responsible for the losing, not the roster or the front office that assembled it.
The NFL did approve Jackson's potentially questionable contract
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jackson’s coaching contract with the Browns did indeed feature some unusual verbiage. But the NFL did approve the deal, which shifts some of the legal burden the Browns would face onto the league itself. More importantly, Jackson himself signed the contract.
The report from Sports Illustrated does make an important point in Jackson’s favor: the context in which he signed that contract.
at the time he was interviewing for jobs in 2016 he was a 50-year-old retread candidate. While well regarded, Jackson had little bargaining power—especially after the 49ers chose to go with Chip Kelly—even if he showed more interest in the details of his contract. It was potentially his last chance to be an NFL head coach.
While that’s not exactly signing under duress, it does help the understanding of why Jackson would knowingly agree to an unusual contract. If there’s a sympathetic bent for Jackson in the entire ordeal, this is it.
The league's short statement on the matter isn't a good look
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The Sports Illustrated report ends with this paragraph, and it’s definitely worth reading carefully,
Jackson’s case covers a controversy-filled coaching tenure that spanned 1,020 days, and a subsequent legal battle that has gone on for more than three years. The NFL has yet to publicly address exactly how far a team can go in bottoming out and rebuilding—and what exactly a coach can be incentivized to do. On Monday evening, the league released its only public statement on the matter. It was 206 words long.
For all the attention and consternation around both Cleveland and the entire league on Jackson’s situation, for all the ongoing litigation and investigation with the Brian Flores case, the NFL’s brevity in addressing this outcome is decidedly underwhelming. Even if Jackson didn’t have legal legs to stand on, the NFL coolly dismissing away this situation with so little explanation should leave fans wanting more.
Understandably, the NFL couldn’t say much here, not with the Flores case ongoing. However, it would have been nice to see more of an acknowledgment that the league will try better in the future to avoid potential situations like this–even if everyone knows it’s a disingenuous statement.