Brian Flores’ explosive lawsuit against the NFL and all 32 of its teams for racial discrimination in hiring practices levied several serious allegations against the league. Flores’ lawsuit includes text messages from Bill Belichick that show Flores was already out of contention for the New York Giants’ open head coaching job before he even interviewed. It alleges his reputation for being difficult to work with started when he refused to tamper with a free agent quarterback on the yacht of Miami’s owner. It claims Broncos executives showed up hungover and unprepared when they interviewed him for their head coaching position.
Yet the most jarring accusation made in Flores’ lawsuit might be the assertion he was offered a bounty to lose games to improve the Dolphins’ draft status. Tanking is of course nothing new in professional sports, particularly in the NFL where the top pick isn’t decided by a ‘lottery’ like the NBA and NHL. According to Flores, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him $100K for every game the team lost during the head coach’s first season in 2019 to improve draft position.
Here’s an excerpt from the filing:
The Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, was unhappy with this performance not because it was under-performing. To the contrary, Mr. Ross wanted the Mr. Flores to “tank” the season to put the team in position to secure the first pick in the draft. Indeed, during the 2019 Mr. Ross told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for each game lost that year. Then, when the Dolphins started winning games, due in no small part to Mr. Flores’ coaching, Mr. Flores was told by the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, that “Steve” was “mad” that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was “compromising [the team’s] draft position.”
It says this later in the lawsuit:
Over the remaining year and a half of Mr. Flores tenure at the helm of the Miami Dolphins, he was routinely made to feel uncomfortable based upon his decision not tank in order to secure the top pick in the 2019 draft. Upon information and belief, no white Head Coach has ever been subjected to such ridicule over winning and holding the spirt of the game in such high regard. In fact, Mr. Flores was ultimately terminated and subsequently defamed throughout the media and the League as he was labeled by the Dolphins brass as someone who was difficult to work with. This is reflective of an all too familiar “angry black man” stigma that is often casted upon Black men who are strong in their morals and convictions while white men are coined as passionate.
Tanking has long been a hot button issue across every sports league. In a system where the worst teams are awarded the most favorable draft position, it stands to reason bad teams want to lose as many games as possible to get a shot at the top talents in the draft. The NBA changed its rules around tanking a few years back after Sam Hinkie’s Sixers were a little too shameless about trying to lose now to win in the future.
Bounties for tanking, though? That feels like a new one, but it’s apparently not unique in the NFL.
After Flores’ lawsuit came out, former Cleveland Browns coach Hugh Jackson alleged he was also given rewards for losing games. In responding to people on Twitter, Jackson said Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was pleased when Cleveland would lose, and that he was offering “a good number” for losses.
Well Jimmy Haslam, was happy while we kept losing.— Hue Jackson (@huejack10) February 2, 2022
Trust me it was a good number!— Hue Jackson (@huejack10) February 2, 2022
The Browns went 1-15 in Jackson’s first season as head coach in 2016. They went 0-16 in his second season in 2017. Both times, the Browns earned the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Flores went on ‘CBS Mornings’ a day after filing the suit, and expounded on why he was so offended at the idea of receiving bonus money to lose. For Flores, it’s all about the integrity of the game.
“This game’s done a lot for me. I grew up not far from here in the projects in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I didn’t grow up with a lot. This game, you know, changed my life. So to attack the integrity of the game, that’s what I felt was happening in that instance. And I wouldn’t stand for it....I think it hurt my standing within the organization and ultimately was the reason why I was let go.”
The Dolphins and Browns’ situations show both sides of the coin when it comes to tanking.
The Dolphins did not get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft like their owner wanted. The first pick that year was Joe Burrow, who has led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl. Miami instead picked No. 5 and chose QB Tua Tagovailoa, who has been inconsistent so far in his short career. But the Dolphins still had an opportunity to take a franchise QB with that pick: one selection later, the Chargers drafted Justin Herbert. The Dolphins simply made the wrong pick.
The Browns tanked for two years. In the first year, they landed defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick, who has been awesome. In 2018, the Browns selected QB Baker Mayfield with the top pick. He’s been a disappointment and his days with the franchise are possibly over.
Flores exposed a lot of uncomfortable things in the NFL, and offering bounties for tanking losses is near the top of the list. There deserves to be punishment from the league over this, but we’ll see if the NFL actually has enough of a backbone to do it.