Hue Jackson’s contract with the Browns had an addendum that included bonus incentives that did not explicitly call for losing games, but appeared to incentivize losing, according to documents obtained by Sports Illustrated’s Gary Gramling and Conor Orr.
Jackson, who coached in Cleveland from 2016 to ’18, claimed in February that the team gave him incentives to lose games between the ’16 and ’17 seasons. The league opened an investigation into the allegations in April and announced Monday that it could not substantiate his claims.
In internal documents obtained by SI, Jackson would receive a bonus after meeting specific incentives that were outlined in “a separate, internal Browns document, titled ‘The Four Year Plan.’” In Article 3 of his contract, the portion that outlines his compensation, Cleveland included a line that said, “In addition to salary, Employee shall be eligible for bonus compensation in accordance with the criteria amounts outlined on Exhibit A.”
Exhibit A is a table in the contract that has an asterisk that references a “FOUR YEAR PLAN BONUS” and an asterisk notes that, “The Four Year Plan and goals will be developed with input from Employee and be subject to final approval of Owner.” It would pay Jackson “up to $750,000” per season.
SI obtained a table from the Browns’ Four Year Plan that lists percentages bonus that Jackson could’ve earned, including draft-pick and salary-cap carryover incentives that would pay him about $100,000 annually in his first two years if reached. A draft-capital bonus could be reached if Cleveland made at least 11 picks in the 2016 NFL draft, with five of those picks having to come from the first three rounds, according to the document. That same year, Jackson could reach the salary-cap bonus if the team ranked “in the bottom quarter of cash spend” in ’16 and “carry over at least 15% of league cap” into the following year.
The parameters of those incentives changed over the following three years, but all seemed to incentivize fewer wins through more early-round draft picks and less money spent on the roster—seemingly motivating Jackson to tank during his two-and-a-half seasons with Cleveland.
“If I got that (Four Year Plan) sent to me, the first thing I’d think was ‘Holy s---, this is, like, a tank bonus,’” one veteran coaching agent told Gramling and Orr.
When the NFL closed its investigation into the Browns’ tanking claims, commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in his letter to Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam that investigators found that “coach Jackson himself reviewed the Plan and suggested changes to the Plan’s incentive compensation metrics, which were accepted.” However, Jackson first informed the NFL of his concerns about the Four Year Plan in November 2016, according to Jackson’s unfiled application to vacate arbitration.
Jackson says that the plan violated a portion of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws that does not allow for any team personnel to “to illegally influence the outcome of the [team] or fail to suspend immediately any officer or player or other employee of the [team] who shall be proven guilty of offering, agreeing, conspiring, or attempting to influence the outcome of any game[…].” The NFL usually reviews all coach contracts, but it is unclear if the league reviewed the incentives that are included in The Four Year Plan. The NFL did not provide a comment to SI on the draft-capital and salary-cap bonus incentives.
The 56-year-old is currently in his first year as head coach at Grambling State. With the Browns, he accumulated a 3-36-1 record.
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