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.