Hue Jackson’s tanking claim focused on a “4-year plan” that, in the first two years, did not incentivize winning

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Former Browns coach Hue Jackson ultimately refused to cooperate with the investigation triggered by his public comments in reaction to former Dolphins coach Brian Flores’s claim that he was offered $100,000 per loss in 2019. But someone (maybe Jackson) is talking a blue streak to SI.com regarding allegations he initially made in a failed arbitration claim filed in the league’s in-house secret rigged kangaroo court.

Gary Gramling and Conor Orr of SI.com have written a lengthy article that delves into Jackson’s effort to take action against the Browns, a legal odyssey apparently motivated by Jackson’s desire to remove the cloud that a 3-36-1 record in Cleveland has put over his career.

The full article is worth a read. This is an effort to streamline and synthesize the broader points.

First, the Browns used a detailed system of incentives for Jackson and members of the personnel department. The incentives were documented in a “4-year plan,” which had different specific factors for each season from 2016 through 2019.

The “4-year plan” was detailed in a booklet that SI.com was unable to obtain. However, the article includes the incentive formula under the 4-year plan. And it definitely shows that winning was not prioritized — or rewarded — in 2016 or 2017.

For example, incentives were earned in 2016 if the team ranked in the bottom quarter of cash spent, and if at least 15 percent of the available cap space was carried over. Incentives were earned in 2016 and 2017 if the team was in the top half of the league in youngest players, via a metric called “snap-weighted age.”

By 2018, one of the factors on the incentive package became winning at least 10 games. For the first two years, there was no incentive tied to winning any number of games. That distinction alone could be used as proof that winning simply wasn’t a consideration for Cleveland in the first two years of Jackson’s tenure.

An unnamed coaching agent told SI.com after reviewing the incentive package, “If I got that sent to me, the first thing I’d think was ‘Holy shit, this is, like, a tank bonus.”

Second, Jackson’s effort to basically clear his name via a legal claim (he sought compensation for breach of contract, fraud, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Browns, along with punitive damages) was derailed in the league’s arbitration process because he had signed a release of all claims in order to get his buyout. So, basically, he never really had much of a chance to even prove his case before the lawyer Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed to handle the arbitration.

Jackson’s case, if it has been heard, would have included arguments that the Browns misled him during the hiring process, “and that the team set out to intentionally lose games over a two-year span, set up Jackson as a dupe, and scapegoated and defamed him in public comments by prominent members of the organization.”

Per SI.com, Jackson actually was ready to file a lawsuit challenging the arbitration outcome, but decided not to, “due to financial considerations and the prospect of a trial in Cleveland.”

The report also explains that Jackson did indeed offer to cooperate with the recently-completed investigation, if the league presented to him the full scope of the investigation in writing, and if he would receive a waiver and release of claims, indemnity, reimbursement for legal fees and other costs. Mary Jo White, who led the investigation, explained that the league can’t disclose the details of an ongoing investigation to third parties, and that “the NFL does not release, indemnify or pay the legal fees of witnesses.” (Mary Jo, you should Google “Matt Walsh,” “NFL,” “Patriots,” “Spygate,” and “attorneys fees.”)

Even after his arbitration claim failed, Jackson persisted. Per the SI.com article, Jackson sent “multiple letters” to Goodell, requesting that an investigation into the Browns be commenced. The first such letter began with this line, in all caps: “I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!”

Jackson changed his tune once an investigation finally was opened. Regardless of whether his concerns that he’d face legal claims or other problems were founded, it was prudent to seek protections against the possibility of a billion-dollar business deciding that it has had enough, too, and that it was going to play scorched-earth hardball with him.

For now, here’s the biggest takeaway. The “4-year plan” definitely did not incentivize winning games in 2016 or 2017, and it contained factors that, if achieved, would be conducive to losing. Although Jackson’s arbitration claim was doomed by the fact that he signed a release in order to get his buyout, the league apparently had more than enough evidence to conclude, if it so desired, that Cleveland’s rebuilding sacrificed short-term competitive integrity for long-term objectives.

Whether the league is fine with that bargain is a different issue. Based on the information obtained by SI.com, however, it seems obvious that it was happening.

38 responses to “Hue Jackson’s tanking claim focused on a “4-year plan” that, in the first two years, did not incentivize winning

  1. Where have you been? Playing to avoid victory was established as soon as Modell fired Paul Brown.

  2. One should never pretend to know how to interpret something than can be seen multiple ways. Most coaches do not have a pro-winning “incentive package” available to them – they’re simply paid to do their job. Considering that everyone at the time knew that Cleveland was embarking on a long-term build, we could easily consider that the team knew it would not be pushing to win in the short term (which is *not* the same as working to lose – it simply means to bank assets for later, no different than trading away veterans during a losing season) and wanted to offer compensation to coaches and execs who in the short term would appear to be doing a poor job. Is that definitely the story? Nah, maybe leadership really did *want* to lose. But both ways of thinking fit this information, meaning we can’t deduce the truth from it alone. Jackson, having failed to get the arrow pointing up enough by his third season, was fired and thus isn’t exactly a trustworthy party for getting the unvarnished truth. That doesn’t mean we should assume he is twisting the facts to look bad against the team, but we shouldn’t be jumping to any conclusions.

  3. As an employer I set reasonable obtainable goals. Why have a bonus structure for 10 wins when that was not obtainable? Hue took a contract with an organization without a historical winning front office. Maybe he should have vetted his potential employer better and waited for the better opportunity he desires now.

  4. Or it is an acceptance by the Brown’s management that it was in such poor shape in year one of the four year plan, that winning was unlikely. Therefore the contracts represented a year on year expected improvement from management.

    Even if that is wrong, not incentovising winning us not the same as incentivising losing.

  5. Just go away Hue. You were a BAD coach…no one needed to pay you to lose. You did that yourself.

  6. This is a poor analysis. If there had been an incentive to win ten games in year one, Hue would be complaining about unattainable goals. Just because that incentive didn’t exist doesn’t equate to him being paid to lose.

  7. 10 wins in 2018 Year 3 was not obtainable? It’s called a stretch goal bonus (I have them in my job), and the team immediately went 5-2 after they fired him (after starting 2-6-1 with his coaching).

  8. Does this shed new light on the “botched” Halloween trade with Cincinnati for McCarron?

  9. The billion dollar question is did Jackson receive 100,000 a game for losing those early years. Take a look at his bank records to decide.

  10. It genuinely seems like the Browns were trying to acknowledge the spot Hue was going to be in during a multi-year rebuild, and compensate him for it. As hard as it is to believe today Hue was a hot head coaching candidate that year. Everything he’s complaining about now he signed on for when he had other options, and that’s because it’s clearly beneficial to a coach who could manage to not completely embarrass himself and lose the team just two years into the deal. Good luck to any other coach looking for similar security in writing going into a long-term project now. Hue’s toxicity knows no bounds.

  11. 1960raiders says:
    May 3, 2022 at 7:06 pm
    Hue Jackson was 8-8 with the Raiders.
    ————————————————————————————————————-
    The Raiders were also 8-8 the season before Hue became the HC. Seven of his eight wins were by a TD, or less.

  12. I’m no legal scholar so I go by Judge Judy’s sage advice; “if it doesn’t make any sense, it’s probably not true”.

  13. This sounds like a rebiuld plan to me. I read this looking for some juicy tanking stories, but it sounds legit.

  14. The plan was so great that GM Sashi Brown was fired after only 2 years and replaced by John Dorsey. The only thing the owners (The Haslams) are guilty of is bring Hue back for a third season because they felt they owed it to him. And look how that turned out. Interim HC Gregg Williams took over midseason and had a 5-3 record with the same roster Hue had. Hue was not incentivised to lose. He lost because of Sashi’s roster building/drafting and Hue’s incompetence.

  15. It’s a rebuild plan that Hue is trying to spin it into a losing plan. Using analytics to have more young players on the team equates to less injuries, which equates to the best talent being on the field when it matters most. It works. More than half the league follows it. The Browns 2020 season is proof that it works. Tying to incentives to win total has never worked in the history of the NFL. It only leads to finger pointing and a divisive locker room. Teams have stopped doing that win-incentive method 20 years ago.

  16. Miami had one of the youngest rosters in year 1 of Flores.

    In year 2 they brought in a handful of vets to compliment the 2 classes of picks.

    Year 3, they sent those FA Vets out and added another draft class.

    Expectations from a Fin Fan? Year 1 was going to be ugly. Year 2 was about growth and continuing to build through the draft with 6 to 8 wins.
    Year 3, continuity, growth and winning.

    Starting out 0-7 in year 1 was acceptable.
    Starting out 1-7 in year 3 was unacceptable.

  17. riverhorsey says:
    May 3, 2022 at 8:23 pm
    The billion dollar question is did Jackson receive 100,000 a game for losing those early years. Take a look at his bank records to decide.
    ———-
    Jackson already answered that question himself. The answer was no.

  18. I’ll give him this… I thought he was full of it, and I don’t think this was incentivizing losing the way he made it seem, but I at least understand the argument and am surprised by the evidence that kinda substantiates it.

  19. So he signed a release to get more money and then wanted everyone to ignore the release he signed so he has the opportunity to get even more money.

    It also seems like he doesn’t have a case. How about he gives back his buyout money? I don’t see him offering to do that.

  20. Far cry from being paid to lose, as he first claimed. And dramatically different than Flores’ claims.

    This is not an incentive to lose. This is a contract that recognizes the Browns needed a longer term plan to win, and it created the incentives for a Hue to do that. If anything it recognized it would be difficult for him to win, and compensated him for building a winning roster over a four year period.

  21. vecchiaio says:
    May 3, 2022 at 5:56 pm
    Where have you been? Playing to avoid victory was established as soon as Modell fired Paul Brown.

    ——————————————————————————————————

    That’s actually not true. By the early 60s, Paul Brown’s teams couldn’t solve the New York Giants of Huff, Robustelli, Tittle and Gifford, plus the Eagles were strong in that period. Blanton Collier, Brown’s successor won the NFL Championship in his second year, and had multiple playoff berths and wins, including beating the emerging Cowboys in the playoffs later in the 1960s

  22. Coach Jackson walked/talked into the job. He knew what was on the table… C’mon man, Let’s be honest about this! That, or he was really dumb.

  23. They Browns did what the Browns have done for my entire life so none of this article is surprising to me. I will say that when Hue took that job, he was the hottest available coach and he turned down at least the Giants but maybe some others. There was ZERO reason to assume the Browns would ever be good, but for some reason that’s what Hue went with. Never did make sense to me, but that horrible head coaching career record is on him for taking that job.

  24. This article was actually helpful. There is a clear difference between not being incentivized to win and being incentivized to lose. It is a distinction that apparently alludes Hue Jackson, however.

  25. I am once again (as my name implies) confused…
    If the Browns were paying Hue to tank then why does the incentive package say in the first year:
    – 20% bonus for being in the top 27 (if tanking don’t you want to be 31st/32nd?
    – 10% bonus for being in the top ten in improving win percentage by using 4th down?
    while the ‘young players clause only says ‘must be in the top 16 – i.e. younger half of the league…
    The Second year:
    – 20% for being top 20 in the rankings
    If I was being asked to lose and had those targets I’d be asking what direction I was going in – it reads more like a ‘yeah this is a sucky job and we don’t expect much’ than ‘you need to lose’

  26. The quarterback guru hue jackson had QB’s Kaizer and Kessler and tanked.

  27. Regardless of what happened with Jackson, Jimmy Haslam (and the Lerners before him) is an awful owner. No successful NFL team resets the coaching staff and/or front office every 1-3 years, and this is what has happened constantly since ’99.

    The huge, dumb deal for Watson, and the childish, unprofessional handling of Mayfield, are additional proof of Haslam’s ineptitude. Watson will not bring championships to Cleveland because the organization is too fundamentally dysfunctional, from the top down.

    Some other team would’ve signed Watson, yes, but Haslam’s hubris has now added another layer of shame to the Browns’ legacy. And I say all of this as a Browns fan.

  28. The only real proof that they were trying to tank is that they brought in Hugh to be HC in the first place…..

  29. Part of the problem is with Hue as a “credible” or even relatable witness. There have been too many instances of him being disingenuous or seeking additional attention throughout his career that I think much of the public initially dismissed his claims as part of his usual bluster and ego self-massaging. That may well be part of the reason this never really gained much traction.

  30. Lots of teams aren’t trying to win. Why pick on one team? Sorry. I’m not buying this.

  31. The fact that the first 2 years didn’t have incentives for winning does not mean it incentivize losing. It was a horrible team. Sounds more like they wanted to give them 2 years to build a better team, and incentivized team building in those first years, then the last 2 years incentivized winning. Not seeing the problem with this.

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