The N.F.L. said that it was unable to substantiate claims made by former Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson that the team provided incentives as a part of a plan to deliberately lose games to enhance their position within the draft in coming years.
Former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White led the league’s look into the claims, reviewing 1000’s of pages of documents including emails and internal memos related to the team’s four-year plan to revitalize the club, which overlapped with Jackson’s two-year stint as head coach in 2016 and 2017.
“The investigation found no evidence to suggest that the Browns’ 4-Yr 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 an announcement.
Jackson didn’t speak to White and other investigators as a part of the review, the league said, but White’s team also reviewed filings and testimony from a previous arbitration between Jackson and the Browns. White also interviewed Browns owner Jimmy Haslam in addition to current and former members of the team.
Jackson didn’t return a call for comment in regards to the league’s findings.
In early February, Jackson said that he received bonuses that reached $750,000 as a part of the team’s plan to lose games and improve the Browns’ standing in the next 12 months’s draft. Under Jackson’s leadership, the Browns won only one game in 2016 and none in 2017. He was fired after eight games in 2018, when the team’s record was 2-5-1.
Jackson made the claims just days after Brian Flores, who had recently been fired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a lawsuit in federal court which alleged that other clubs gave him “sham interviews” for vacant positions they knew they might give to white coaches. Flores’s suit said the practice was a part of leaguewide discrimination against Black coaches of their hiring practices.
In that filing, Flores also claimed that Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, offered to pay him $100,000 for every game he lost while he was head coach of the team.
Ross has denied the allegations.
On Monday, lawyers representing Flores and the 2 other Black N.F.L. coaches who joined the suit, Ray Horton and Steve Wilks, appeared in Recent York federal court for a pretrial conference across from the lawyers defending the N.F.L., who include Loretta Lynch, a former U.S. attorney general.
Lynch and the N.F.L.’s legal team have argued that the plaintiffs’ claims ought to be sent to closed-door arbitration, and have until June 21 to file a motion to compel arbitration. Flores’s attorneys are fighting for the case to be tried in open court.
The plaintiffs also sought to start limited discovery around whether N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell carries biases that ought to eliminate him because the potential arbitrator. They cited Goodell’s employment status — the 32 teams defending against Flores’s claims determine and pay his salary — in addition to the league’s statement immediately after the lawsuit was filed by which it said that Flores’s claims were “without merit.”
The judge hearing the conference deferred a call on whether that limited discovery can happen until after the N.F.L. files its motion to compel. The plaintiffs could have until July 22 to answer the league’s motion, but that timeline might be prolonged in the event that they petition the judge to permit limited discovery around Goodell’s role.
Flores’s attorneys told the judge they might be open to participating in a settlement conference, however the N.F.L. declined, saying it’s confident the arbitration process can be neutral.