Cleveland Browns former coach Hue Jackson says he was paid a bonus to tank, but what does that mean?
So is former Cleveland Browns Hue Jackson saying that he was offered money to tank the team, or that he accepted money to tank the team, or knew about the intention to tank the team, or what? Clarification is needed, and this is a very slippery slope.
Sports Illustrated and many other sources have called attention to a Tweet by Kimberly Diemert, the executive director of the Hue Jackson Foundation, alleging that the Browns gave bonuses to coach Jackson, general manager Sashi Brown, and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta of the Browns, and that the bonuses were paid to “tank” the team.
The hint is that there are records that will assist Brian Flores in his class-action lawsuit against the NFL. This author is not prepared to discuss the particulars of that lawsuit, but the integrity of coach Jackson and the Browns has been called into account over whether they were trying to win each time they took the field. “Tanking” is the issue being addressed by this article, not hiring practices in the NFL or lawsuits per se.
What does it mean to “tank?” That is not a precise technical term.
On the one hand, it can mean to deliberately lose a game on Sunday. If not outright illegal, that’s a career-ending blow to a coach’s integrity and should get him fired on the spot. But “tank” is also an impolite term for “rebuild” and that is a much gentler matter.
Jeff Schudel’s account in the News-Herald provides a more tempered approach than Diemert’s eager and fiery claims. Schudel views Jackson’s contorted quotes to ESPN as being very consistent with what he candidly told the media after the 2016 season. Specifically, he said he might not have taken the Browns’ job had he realized how drastic the rebuilding process would be. That is not the same as saying he was being paid extra to lose more games.
It is completely understood, or should be understood, that it’s an accepted practice for teams to sacrifice present performance in order to build for the future. That means shipping veterans off to other teams, saving salary cap money, and the like.
For example, when the Browns cut Josh McCown, everybody in the football universe including Josh McCown knew that he could still play. At the time he was cut, McCown was quoted by Mary Kay Cabot as saying, “You need to take as many stabs at this as you can. That’s why I wasn’t as bummed out as I could’ve been when they released me. They need the roster spots to get this right and they’re committed to it.”
The Browns also (stupidly, in this writer’s opinion), cut Joe Haden, who had been injured and had surgery. He signed with the Steelers and has been a star in their defensive backfield and helped them to beat the Browns brains out over the years. But the Browns accumulated $59 million in salary cap, and drafted first overall two consecutive years, with several extra picks in the tenure of Jackson and Sashi Brown.
You can call that tanking if you like, but the players and coaches on the field on Sunday are doing everything possible to win the game. An exception is if a player is risking permanent injury. Should a player hide a concussion injury in order to play, or would you call that tanking if he sits out and potentially saves his career? That probably is an unfair application of the term.
Rebuilding is a necessary part of owning a professional sports franchise. “Tanking” is not a polite term but it is totally above board. Sashi Brown’s problem was that he overdid it, to the point of making unsound football moves, which seem to have been done in order to position the team to choose a top quarterback in the 2018 draft. Gosh, they did not want to have to settle for Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson, right?
All NFL franchises should have an explicit understanding that 0-17 is an automatic death penalty for the general manager and coach. They should be terrified of being winless, but that’s a side issue at this point.
Certainly, any number of fans look at 1-31 and just hate the coach. More rational fans understand that there was no opportunity for Jackson to be successful. Jackson is understandably bitter about his experience. In the past, he has tried to fight back and usually made the problem worse. We hear you coach, but the best thing you can do is coach the Grambling State Tigers.
If Hue is saying that he received a bonus because ownership was pleased with his performance, understanding that they were in the midst of a radical rebuilding effort, that totally makes sense. If Hue is saying he was treated unfairly by the press and that his reputation took an undeserved hit, that is true. If he is saying that 3-36-1 is not indicative of his ability, that is also true.
However, Hue, you cannot have it both ways. Either you took money to lose games on Sunday or you did not. If you did, are you not implicating yourself as well as the team? Is that really what you mean? Alternatively, if the bonus was earned because you endured through trying circumstances in a rebuilding process, that is not news and should not be used to try to take down the Cleveland Browns.