No professional sports team can really lose 31 out of 32 games without trying, can they?
Maybe that’s why allegations of incentivized losing from Hue Jackson raised some eyebrows.
After all, the Cleveland Browns‘ former head coach was the guy in charge on game day in 2016 and 2017.
Jackson subsequently retracted his statement that he was paid to lose NFL football games.
The NFL is investigating the Browns for tanking in 2016 and 2017. League has spoken to the team, which said it has cooperated fully.
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) April 18, 2022
And that might have been the end of the matter had Brian Flores not claimed the Miami Dolphins did the same thing.
Flores, who is also at the head of a discrimination suit against the NFL, said he was offered $100,000 per loss.
With the integrity of the game at risk, the NFL sanctioned an independent investigation into both claims.
Former SEC Chair Mary Jo White started looking into the matter back in February.
Browns “Welcomed” An Investigation
For their part, the Cleveland Browns vehemently denied Jackson’s claims from the start.
Team co-owner Jimmy Haslam said his former head coach never took any ownership of his dismal record.
An official team statement in February called Jackson’s claims “completely fabricated.”
Cleveland Browns deny Hue Jackson was incentivized for losses when he was head coach https://t.co/GQscKfCAX5
— swissbusiness (@swissbusiness) February 3, 2022
But the club welcomed the investigation to resolve the matter, according to another statement issued yesterday:
“Even though Hue recanted his allegations a short time after they were made, it was important to us and to the integrity of the game to have an independent review of the allegations. We are confident the results will show, as we’ve previously stated, that these allegations are categorically false.”
Kimberly Diemert, who ran Jackson’s foundation, said the Browns paid bonuses to their leadership team despite their losing ways.
The allegation was that winning the first overall NFL Draft pick was more important than winning games.
But the firing of Sashi Brown before the end of that 2017 season indicates Haslam was not happy with losing.
Tanking Versus Paid-To-Lose
Hue Jackson made the rounds on national media after his explosive allegations.
But he quickly rolled back his allegations, admitting he was not paid to lose games.
Instead, he said the team was built to lose, trading off most players of value for draft picks.
Browns fans who lived through the Jackson era did not see his statement as news.
— Boston.com Sports (@BDCSports) April 7, 2019
Cleveland’s first attempt to rebuild with a “Moneyball” approach was no secret.
But tanking a season or two while re-constructing a roster is not unheard of in the NFL or other sports.
The Haslams expected Jackson to do the best he could with the roster he was left with.
Cleveland expected to lose more games than they won, but that is a far cry from telling a coach to lose ball games.
Could The Browns Be In Trouble?
Most folks expect Mary Jo White’s investigation to exonerate the Cleveland Browns.
There was little secret of the Browns’ rebuilding plans, which started in earnest under John Dorsey.
Jackson was fired after starting the 2018 season 2-5-1, and the team won 5 of its next 8 games.
With the “paid to lose” accusations already recanted, Cleveland appears to be in the clear.
— Nate Ulrich (@ByNateUlrich) April 19, 2022
But what if the investigator says the team was incentivized to create a losing team?
Bonuses paid for low payroll or acquiring top draft picks don’t promote winning.
Cleveland wouldn’t be the first or last NFL team to tank a season for future benefits.
But an “everybody does it” defense might not appease fans as much as they hope.