Browns, through outside counsel, told Hue Jackson to zip it over tanking allegations
On February 1, Browns coach Hue Jackson sent a strong message to the world, regarding his belief that the Browns tanked in 2016 and 2017. Five days later, the Browns sent a very specific message to Jackson.
In a letter sent by Bart H. Williams of the Proskauer law firm to Jackson, a copy of which PFT has obtained, Williams demanded that Jackson “immediately cease and desist from making any further comments suggesting that anyone involved with the Browns organization sought to lose games while you where the head coach.”
The letter warns Jackson that "[a]ny claim by you or others on your behalf that the Browns either wanted to lose or paid you to lose is defamation, for which you are liable.” The letter goes on to warn Jackson that the Browns “reserve all rights to seek relief against you,” if Jackson continues to commit alleged breaches of the release agreement that he signed after being fired in October 2018.
The letter goes on to accuse Jackson of “trying to opportunistically wedge your personal frustration with your tenure at the Browns into an important public dialogue about opportunities for African-Americans in leadership positions in the NFL.”
This letter helps explain Jackson’s decision to seek assurances from the league before cooperating with the NFL’s investigation into whether the Browns incentivized tanking. He was on notice that the Browns could pursue claims against him, and he was looking for protection against that outcome before saying whatever he would have said to Mary Jo White.
Ultimately, Jackson’ claims have never been fully developed and litigated. His arbitration proceeding was dismissed due to the fact that he signed a release agreement. The merits of his allegations were never fully developed and resolved. (Then again, the case would have unfolded in the NFL’s secret rigged kangaroo court, so the end result likely would have been the same.) While the comments that he made in the aftermath of the filing of the Brian Flores lawsuit seem to have been exaggerated, Cleveland’s approach to the 2016 and 2017 seasons was unconventional, to say the least. Although the team did not incentivize losing, it incentivized various factors that, if achieved, would not be conducive to winning in those two seasons.
Most significantly (in our view), the team’s four-year plan included incentives for winning a certain number of games in 2018 and 2019, but none whatsoever for winning a certain number of games in 2016 and 2017. The process of cross-examining the various Browns owners and executives regarding the decision to make winning a factor in 2018 and 2019 but not in 2016 and 2017 could have gone a long way toward allowing a fair assessment to be made as to whether the effort to rebuild crossed the line into an effort to tank. Alas, that never occurred. It likely never will.