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NFL finds no evidence to support Browns tanking claims under Hue Jackson

The Browns went 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017 with Hue Jackson as their coach. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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The NFL said Monday that it did not find evidence to corroborate claims that the Cleveland Browns “paid or otherwise provided incentives to lose games” during the 2016 and 2017 seasons under then-coach Hue Jackson.

“The investigation found no evidence to suggest that the Browns’ Four-Year Plan or the club’s ownership or football personnel sought to lose or incentivized losses and made no decisions deliberately to weaken the team to secure a more favorable draft position,” the league said in a statement.

The NFL also said “none of the allegations could be substantiated.” Its two-month probe was conducted by attorney Mary Jo White, who also is investigating tanking allegations made against the Miami Dolphins by former coach Brian Flores. That investigation is ongoing.

The league said Monday that Jackson, now the coach at Grambling, did not meet with NFL investigators after initially agreeing to do so. The league said Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and current and former members of the organization were interviewed, adding that the team fully cooperated.

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The investigators considered Jackson’s public statements and had access “to his filings and testimony in a prior arbitration proceeding,” the NFL said in its statement. According to the league, the Browns “produced thousands of pages of documents, including emails, texts, internal memos and presentation decks as well as other material relating to club operations and the filings and testimony in the arbitration proceeding between the club and Coach Jackson.”

In a televised interview in February, Jackson told ESPN that he wasn’t claiming to have been expressly told or paid to lose games. He said he was given a four-year plan by the Browns in which winning was not prioritized in the first few years.

“I understand it’s about winning,” Jackson said in that interview. “But I was put in a situation where I could not win. And I think that’s what everybody’s got to understand.”

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The Browns had a combined record of 1-31 under Jackson during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. They were winless in 2017, and Jackson was fired following a 2-5-1 start in 2018.

In Flores’s racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and teams, he accused Dolphins owner Stephen Ross of offering him $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season in a failed attempt to secure the top pick in the draft. Ross has denied the allegations.

Two other Black coaches, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, joined Flores’s lawsuit last month, accusing the league and teams of racial discrimination in the hiring and retention of minority coaches. Jackson, who is Black, is not involved in the lawsuit.