Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece based on information uncovered in Sports Illustrated‘s investigation In Hue Jackson’s claims that he was incentivized to lose games while he was the head coach of the Browns.
In a footnote of a letter from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to Browns owner Jimmy Haslam over the league’s investigation into Hue Jackson’s tanking allegations this week, Goodell wrote (emphasis mine): “There is no merit to suggest that offering incentives Article 9.1 (C) (8) of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, which prohibits bonuses to coaches for winning specials games against particular opponents. “
One point of contention in Jackson’s claims that it has not yet been reported is that the Browns, after scrapping an incentive structure that rewarded the head coach for draft capital and salary-cap space carryover, installed a new bonus system — negotiated between Haslam and Jackson’s agent via email (it’s unclear if it was ever submitted to the NFL for approval) —that rewarded Jackson for wins (“3 wins – $ 100K” up to “7 wins – $ 500K.”).
Goodell’s is a noteworthy clarification because there are some agents and advisers who work on NFL coaching contracts not interpreted the rule as such. One coaching agent I spoke to said that he always understood the NFL’s rule on incentives for coaches that means you can financially make a coach for the playoffs — since there is extra revenue that comes with extra games — but not for winning a specific number. of games. One agent I spoke to told you can Put a win total in their contract, while a third said they’ve only worked on contracts that offer bonuses for the postseason because that isn’t the goal every team has at the beginning of the year anyway? A fourth added that nothing existing either inside or outside of the contract would surprise them.
Indeed, in the NFL’s constitution — Article 9.1 (C) (8) —the wording is vague and certainly open to interpretation: “A team cannot offer a player or coach and no player or coach can receive any bonus, money, or The value of the thing for winning is to play any game in the league. “
This is a small window into the act of contortionism the league can perform in order to tamp down questions (especially notable with the Brian Flores lawsuit looming). In our investigation of Jackson’s claims, the NFL saw a bonus table that offered Jackson additional cash for “making 11 draft picks, and five in the first three rounds” and “spending the bottom quarter in cash, carrying over 15%.” of the league cap “and deemed it” a club acting to develop integrity and implement a long-term plan and maintain a successful team and win every game that it plays. ” In the letter from Goodell to Haslam, the commissioner noted the Browns’ record before Jackson’s arrival, and wrote: “A significant multi-year program was necessary” to make the Browns competitive.
Worded that way, it’s reasonable that the NFL came to their “nothing to see here” conclusion. In fact, there is nothing exception-level mind-blowing about the NFL’s findings, if you read the book the way they lay it out. However, when looked at in another way—Wait, you’re paying a coach extra money if the team earns extra draft picks in the first three rounds and there are really only a few ways to do that.—One might see a problem, especially for a league in the nascent stages of a very lucrative relationship with multiple sports betting partners.
Regardless, the league’s actions — the investigative findings, Goodell’s clarification of the per-win bonus rule — set the parameters for future endeavors from owners and front offices who may set out to build a similar program.
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Basically, the league is saying it’s OK to pay for a coach winning a certain number of games. It’s OK to pay more draft picks to accrue them. It’s OK to pay them less for the roster. It’s fine to do all of this, so long as there seems to be a general theme associated with eventual forward progress. The best part about this league is that coaching contracts are often kept under lock and key, unlike the players they manage, whose contractual details can be uncovered by Google for a few short minutes.
In the NFL’s letter to Haslam, he noted that the Browns signed “significant free agents” during the Jackson years as evidence of their desire to eventually win. They were seemingly referring to Kevin Zietler, JC Tretter, Kenny Britt and Jason McCourty in 2017, who were brought in during Jackson’s second year. In ’16 and ’17, respectively, the Browns ranked last and second-to-last in total salary-cap spending. In ’16, Jackson’s first year, the Browns’ most prominent signings were Don Jones, Darius Jennings, Tank Johnson, Raheem Mostert and Terrelle Pryor.
So what we have is a kind of basic set of guidelines for rebuilding teams, which is convenient given that the NFL is preparing for a much more significant legal battle involving tanking. Don’t dip down the Cleveland line or else you might find yourself in actual trouble.
Beyond the consequences of the Flores case, it will be interesting to see how the league’s findings change the way coaches, general managers or players behave. For example, if I were looking for a free agent on various options on the open market, I would ask my agent to do some digging and find out if my coach had any kind of pick-up accrual bonus because of his contract or cap-shaving incentives. may eventually be a casualty. If I were to interview a head coach for a job that offered incentives for draft pick accruals and lower salary cap spending, I would probably think twice about taking the opportunity (most agents we spoke to said they would not have accepted Jackson’s contract but acknowledged that if their The client had no other options they would have no choice, which is an interesting perspective to keep in mind as we look at the hiring trends around the league).
In the spirit of fairness, it might behoove the NFL to make any of these arrangements in public in the future since they are now blessed to have them as acceptable. A coaching or GM contract should be just as public and attainable as a player’s contract. This way, a lay-person betting coaches a late-season tilt by a person who stands to make an extra $ 90,000 if the team can make an additional pick in the third round that takes into account. This way, a veteran is hoping to make it his next contract knowing his additional coach’s decision-making behind additional motivations.
Tanking is not legal in the NFL just like tax evasion is not legal. However, in both cases, there are certain avenues which you can reach at a similar goal through acceptable means. This week, the NFL has laid out their tax code in regards to roster builds. Will anyone dive into the fine print?
Gary Gramling contributed to this story
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