NFL deemed Browns’ “4-year plan” a “multi-year rebuilding program”

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Tomato, tomahto. Tanking, rebuilding.

It’s a distinction without a real difference. The NFL nevertheless tried, in its assessment of the investigation of the allegations made by former Browns coach Hue Jackson, to find that the team did not try to lose. The NFL did not specifically address, however, whether the Browns were actually trying to win when implementing what the franchise dubbed a “4-year plan.”

PFT has obtained a copy of the letter sent by Commissioner Roger Goodell to Browns owner Jimmy Haslam regarding the decision that Jackson’s claims could not be substantiated.

In the letter, dated May 2, Goodell writes that the investigation “found no evidence that the Browns ‘tanked’ in the 2016-17 seasons, or that the Four-Year Plan incentivized losses.”

Goodell explains that the “Four-Year Plan” was adopted after the Browns had finished last in the AFC North in seven of the previous eight seasons and had won more than five games only once during that same period.

“There was a general recognition that the team was not competitive and that a significant and multi-year rebuilding program was necessary for the Browns to compete in a division that included some strong rivals like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers,” Goodell writes. “The Plan was initially developed by executives in the football department; Coach Jackson himself reviewed the plan and suggested changes to the Plan’s incentive compensation metrics, which were accepted. Coach Jackson thereafter agreed to all of the Plan’s metrics for the 2016-2019 seasons.”

Goodell then explains that the investigation found no proof that the Browns “tanked” any game in 2016 or 2017, and that no one “in ownership, the football department, or coaching staff encouraged losses or discouraged winning to improve the club’s draft position.” He adds that the investigation did not find evidence that anyone with the Browns “made decisions deliberately to weaken the team to secure a more favorable draft position.” Goodell notes that the club placed more of an emphasis on the overall number of picks than on a particular draft position.

Goodell alternatively could have concluded, if he had so chosen, that the “Four-year plan” reveals numerous factors that definitely did not incentivize winning. As noted in the formula obtained by, the last two years of the plan included incentives based on winning. The first two most definitely did not.

Moreover, the notion that the plan didn’t seek to improve draft position but prioritized overall picks ignores the obvious connection between the two. The higher a team drafts in a given round, the more easily those picks can be flipped for more selections. Thus, the tanking incentive, while not express, is absolutely implied.

The fair takeaway from the league’s finding is simple. While evidence of efforts to lose specific games will result in serious problems, a broader, long-term effort to build a better team in the future by not valuing factors that lead directly to winning now will be respected — as long as the formula and language is sufficiently convoluted and complicated to never directly suggest that the team tried to lose any given game. If the team is generally not trying to win every given game, the folks at 345 Park Avenue will say that’s fine and dandy.

Unless, of course, they decide in any given case that they want to conclude otherwise. If we’ve learned nothing else over the years, we’ve learned that the league does whatever it wants to do, and that it massages the facts and their interpretation to fit the preferred outcome in any/every given case.

42 responses to “NFL deemed Browns’ “4-year plan” a “multi-year rebuilding program”

  1. If you feel that a body can’t heal until whatever it has that’s polluting it or harming it is gone, you root out that cause. If a new coach or GM, or both, feel that jettisoning guys who got comfy on bloated contracts is best for the culture, they do it. You build from the ground up. It is not the same as tanking. I don’t see how that is so hard to understand. I saw years of mediocrity in Miami and was fine with the total rebuild. Miami has a solid defense, has spent a ton on the offense, has a ton of picks next year and still over $20M in cap space with winning records the past two years. What they did in 2019, without getting the #1 pick, was worth it.

  2. We investigated ourselves and found we did nothing wrong thus cannot not see why we should punish ourselves for just “creatively rebuilding”. As long as we don’t say the “T” word it’s perfectly legal and if a coaches career and credibility is destroyed in the process at least he was paid well so no harm right?

  3. Anyone that followed the Browns during these seasons knew that the team had a rebuilding plan. It was discussed openly in the local media. Strip down the roster, save cap, collect pickets rebuild from scratch. To suggest the players didn’t play to win is offensive to them as professionals.

  4. There are ways to tell if you have the coaching to lead you through a rebuild. Dan Campbell is a great current example. Franchise QB gone, entire WR group gone, new front office, new coach. Win in one season what Hue Jackson did in almost 3 seasons. Guys played hard. There were a lot of promising signs from rookies and development as the season went along. The vibe in Cleveland with Hue was a shoulder shrug. Just like now. We’re supposed to lose. It’s a 4 year plan. Nobody is coming for Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell because there is instant progress. Hue Jackson never once established any sort of progress through his leadership.

  5. Every bottom dwelling team in every pro league positions themselves to get a high draft pick. As they should.

    Whether it is by being sellers. Playing prospects. Dumping coaches. Etc.

    And no body cares about gamblers losses. They make their own bed. They can put this into consideration.

  6. People are misunderstanding “tanking” with throwing games for betting purposes. It is not.

    Tanking is a well known strategy of losing now to win in the future. Rebuilding/tanking does not screw bettors, because the odds of strategic loss are included in the betting odds.

    Fix the draft order if you think tanking is immoral.

  7. Suck for Luck. Colts had a marketing and rebuild plan the fans could get behind. Mayfield, Watson ? Cleveland deserves a franchise rebuild plan the good fans of Cleveland can support.

  8. The only remedy at this point with the browns is to force the Haslams to sell. They are by far the worst owners in the league.

  9. Sashi Brown orchestrated the 4-year plan, and Hue Jackson executed it.
    Sashi Brown is not linked to the losing record, and he is now employed with the Ravens. Hue is forever linked to the losing record and will likely never get another chance in the NFL.

  10. Obviously, tanking happens plenty. It’s not just the Browns…lots of teams rest starters, give youngsters a chance, etc. once they are out of playoff contention to get higher draft picks. It happens in all sports. So why can’t Goodell just admit it and say tanking is, in fact, an inherent part of professional sports? Why constantly lie and cover up everything like it’s a perfect league. Most fans would be ok with it…I know I, for one, would prefer honesty even if the news isn’t great for the NFL. Goodell and the owners are so obsessed with money, they’ve become pathological.

  11. Factory of Sadness.. The last time the Browns were relevant Marty said, “there’s a gleam men, there’s a gleam. Let’s go get the gleam.”

  12. There is nothing wrong with trading away talent to other teams you’ll probably lose in a year or two anyway to gather picks and lose because you have less talent. In fact you’d be stupid to stay in the same hamster shell of being other teams farm team for free agents. Miami did the same thing. They traded away talent planning on a better future for draft position,salary,and the ability to add more picks. Neither Miami nor Cleveland put their players on the field with a plan to lose. They game planned to win with less talent and lost. In Miami there was no need to ask Flo to lose. All the owner and the GM had to do was trade more talent away when Miami started playing better ball after week 5. They were 0 and 5 at that point.

  13. Can you imagine what Roger would have done if it was the Patriots that had inserted such a 4 year plan after Brady left?

  14. One question: If a “4-year plan” is to be believed, were season ticket holders told not to get their hope up? Riiiiiiiight.

  15. Tanking and rebuilding are absolutely not the same thing. Are the Jets, Jags, Falcons, Lions and a few others tanking this year?

  16. As my grandfather used to say, “Wrestling is the only honest sport.”

  17. Well when your job is to protect your bosses (all 32), this is exactly the response we would expect. Such a conflict of interest.

  18. I wouldn’t say tomato, tomahto. If you have a 4 step plan to repaint your house (scrape, caulk, prime, paint), your house is going to look worse after step 1 than it did before you started, and you’re not going to win any neighborhood beautification awards until you take care of step 4. That’s a rebuild, and there’s nothing nefarious about it. A tank job is more like burning the house down so the insurance company has to paint it. It’s paying off your coach to throw games, or telling your QB to toss a pick 6 because you’re up by 3. Both involve accepting short terms losses to achieve long term gains, but however much it may accelerate the process, the latter is just bad form. The only indication that the Browns may have been tanking was their hiring Jackson over McDermott in the first place, but pretty sure that was just a very bad judgement call.

  19. The NFL, by the way they set the draft order, incentivizes losing and deincentivizes losing. So why blame a team that’s following the NFLs lead.

  20. If you know you have a poor quality team, it is going to take a couple of seasons to recover and rebuild. So if putting an incentive plan together, why would you emphasize wins in year 1 and 2? Not every team is capable of winning the Super Bowl in any given season, and incentives work best when the employee feels they have some level of control over achieving them. For a good team, 10 wins is reasonable. For one bereft of talent? 5 wins might be overachieving, but it would probably be a demotivator to put that into a plan.

  21. When you look at the Browns tanking being forgiven and the Commanders’ multiple problems being swept under the rug, it’s become clear that Roger Goddell is nothing – NOTHING – other than the owners’ fixer. With gambling now legal, when will we see the first lawsuit from somebody who lost a ton of cash on a team in year one or two of a “four-year rebuilding program?”

  22. The team had been horrible and had poor rosters since 1999. They hired a new front office every couple of years with a “we have to win now” mentality – and it failed every time.

    So they finally put an actual plan in place to put together a young, talented, and competitive roster, built mainly through the draft — which other than some issues at the QB position — has inarguably worked. The team is much more competitive now than it ever has been since 1999.

    So I don’t understand all of the drama and implied underhanded dealings going on with how the Browns rebuilt themselves. It was either do that, or keep on having the 3-13 and 4-12 seasons that they constantly subjected their fans to year after year.

  23. Playing younger players, waiving pricey veterans as part of a rebuilding plan is above board so if that’s what Hue’s claims are based on he doesn’t have a claim. There’s only one goal, winning the Super Bowl. There’s no prize for going 7-9 instead of 4-12. The Cowboys were terrible in the first year or so of Jimmy Johnson. The Colts were awful Peyton’s first year.

  24. gideon says:
    May 4, 2022 at 2:52 am
    Can you imagine what Roger would have done if it was the Patriots that had inserted such a 4 year plan after Brady left?
    Rodger probably would’ve had evidence of it being planned courtesy of the Pats scouting team video crew.

  25. Rome wasn’t built overnight but then again we are talking about Cleveland

  26. Colts vehemently denied they were in on the “Suck for Luck” campaign. They said they were actively trying to win every game while playing clipboard holders at QB. Sure, let’s field sub-par players and let them ‘try to win’. It’s disingenuous.

  27. When you’re a perpetual loser you’re not going to become Kings of the division overnight. It’s going to take time. So why would anyone want to incentivize winning in their contracts in that first or second season when there was virtually no chance of that happening? If I was Jackson, I’d want the incentives to be built into my contract in that third or fourth year when I had 2-yrs prior to build something and had my best chance at starting to win. Don’t promise me something in a year where I had virtually no chance of achieving it, promise it to me when I had a real chance of achieving it. I’m with the league on this, I don’t see anything wrong here.

  28. Given the current narrative of laying all the blame at Mayfield’s feet, please remember that he was drafted by a 1-31 team and made an immediate positive impact. Then Haslam brought in Kitchens – for a year – that was a brutal, awful mistake. Mayfield led the team to the Divisional round of the playoffs in 2020 – oh, I know I know I know…he gets no credit for that, right? Because of reasons.

    But the point of all this is that Haslam is an awful owner. The Watson signing is evidence in support of that, not against it. How the team has handled Mayfield is also prime evidence of Haslam’s dysfunction.

    Jackson’s tenure in Cleveland was awful, sure. But he’s not the only one to blame. Teams always look for scapegoats. Jackson was one. Lately it’s been Mayfield. In a few years Watson will get blamed for not bringing championships.

  29. Hue Jackson is one of the most embarrassing attempts at being an NFL Hc as there ever has been. 3-36-1. He was in place he never belongrd. For the author here of this article to attempt to ” mince words” in his effort to support the 3 -36-1 HC’s track record shows how amatuer and moronic this so called Sports Journalist actually is.

  30. Solving the problem is easy- The op 10 draft picks should be determined by live-broadcast lottery-ball draw system. Plus NFL gets another pseudo-event to market, televise and get paid for.

  31. A 4 year plan when a NFL career averages 3.3 years? Wonder why it didn’t work.

  32. People buy pro sports teams and they know nothing about how to build a winning team. Teams make a lot of moves that make it appear like they’re not trying to win. They interview coaches and GM’s, but how do they even begin the interview? They don’t have any idea of what questions to ask. They often hire people that just sound like they know what they’re doing, even if they don’t. Pro sports are pretty unique in that regard. The business owner doesn’t understand the business he owns. To start pointing out teams that aren’t trying to win is ridiculous. Especially the Browns. Their owner eats more contracts than anyone. He’s trying to win.

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