Whaddya mean the Cleveland Browns were tanking? Does anybody see the irony in this accusation? The Cleveland Browns were TRYING to lose games? Yeah, right. Since when do they have to try to lose games? They lose games when they’re trying to win. Trying to win, trying to lose — it’s the same thing for the Browns. That’s why they’re the Browns.

Hue Jackson, their former coach, has stirred up controversy by stating that his team tanked games, claiming the Browns paid him $750,000 in bonuses during his tenure as the Browns head coach from 2016-18, when he won only three of 40 games. The NFL has launched an investigation into Brown’s accusations.

This is problematic. How do you prove such a thing, especially when you’re talking about the Browns?

The Browns are clowns. They’ve had three winning seasons in the last 23 years.

No matter what they do, it turns out wrong, but who knows if it was intentional. Let’s say that the Browns tanked so they could nab a couple of overall No. 1 draft picks as a result of the Jackson years, which they did in 2017 to pick defensive end Myles Garrett and 2018 to pick quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield helped lead the Browns to a 7-8-1 record as a rookie — their best since 2007.  In 2020, Mayfield helped the Browns achieve an 11-5 record and their first playoff berth since 2002. But in 2021, he played with a torn labrum among other injuries.

It was clear that injuries hurt his performance but he courageously played on, starting 14 games. Yet the Browns decided to throw him to the curb and paid a ransom for Deshaun Watson, who might not even be able to play if the NFL suspends him.

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Is this part of their tanking scheme, too?

To obtain Watson, the Browns pretty much staked the future of the franchise on him for years to come. They traded away three first-round picks for the next three years, plus a third-round pick and two fourth-round picks. Then they signed him to a fully guaranteed, five-year $230 million-dollar contract this year. That should just about cover all the lawsuits that have been brought against him by 22 women who tell the same story of sexual misconduct.

The Browns have invested their future in a quarterback who hasn’t played a game since 2020 and likely will face punishment (suspension) from the NFL for the accusations of those women.

The Browns are trying to win by signing Watson — aren’t they?

Garrett has played well for the team, but in 2019 he ripped the helmet off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and hit him in the head with it. Garrett was suspended indefinitely (it turned out to be the last six games of the season).

Was that part of the tanking scheme too?

In 2019 the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr., who at the time was among the most gifted players in the league. His production declined steadily with the Browns, who barely looked his way in the passing game. Beckham complained and pouted about it, ripping the team publicly. The Browns waived him late last season and Beckham signed with the Rams. Beckham was a trusted target for the Rams in the playoffs and he caught a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl win.

That’s how things go for the Browns.

Now the Browns are being investigated for tanking games under Jackson, but how can anyone define or prove such a thing? What, for instance, is the difference between tanking and rebuilding?

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The Seahawks dumped superstar linebacker Bobby Wagner — perhaps their best defensive player ever — to clear his big salary from the books and use that money to rebuild. That’s a common practice. Is that tanking?

Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins to a 4-3 start in 2020, completing 68.5% of his passes and helping the team total 67 points in two games. This was real progress for a struggling franchise, but days later Fitzpatrick was told that rookie Tua Tagovailoa would be the starter so the team could evaluate their No. 1 draft pick. Is this tanking?

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Professional sports rewards losing with high draft picks. This promotes parity. It also foments intentional losing at a certain point. A franchise can be bad or mediocre forever, or it can lose to win in the future, and there isn’t a lot that anyone can do about it.

The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers made no secret of a three-year project of losing on purpose so they could rebuild. They used the draft picks that resulted from all that losing so they could draft Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The reason the NBA adopted a lottery system for the draft and a play-in game for the playoffs was to address the problem of tanking.

Tanking takes other forms. In recent years, teams rest star players during the latter stages of the regular season or on and off throughout the regular season. This is a problem for fans, who pay for tickets and then watch their favorite players sit on the bench. Kawhi Leonard set the standard by playing in only 60 games en route to leading the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 NBA championship. Load management, they call it.

It sounds a lot like tanking.

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