"I do want everyone to know we're not tanking the season," he told reporters. "I'm not after the first pick."
While some may disagree -- or wonder how the Browns (0-3) will out-maneuver the Bears (0-3) for the honor -- Jackson was talking after a game in which the Browns exhausted every effort to win. Had it not been for the rust still lingering on their brand new kicker who went 3-of-6 on Sunday and hooked the game winning attempt from 46 yards, Jackson would have been celebrating the team's first victory, one he envisioned would come weeks ago in the season-opener against Philadelphia.
Yes, the Browns are selling off assets in order to improve their chances in the draft over the next two years. Yes, they allowed center Alex Mack to walk in free agency, opting to play a 2015 first-round draft pick that they hoped would develop into something comparable for half the cost. Yes, they traded Andy Lee, Barkevious Mingo and Justin Gilbert and no, they did not sign any high-priced free agents in the offseason or keep the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft to take a quarterback of the future.
None of these truths equate to tanking. Those players fell into one of two categories: Former project picks who did not pan out and were likely going to be cut anyway, or luxury items like a Pro Bowl punter who is far more valuable to a playoff team that will see their season decided by a few crucial moments.
Jackson is smart enough to know that his time in Cleveland is just as limited as any other head coach who has come in and installed a new set of beliefs and philosophies only to be jettisoned out of town two years later for the next brave soul looking for a chance to turn the ship around. Trusting anyone who would say that this time the Browns will wait it out and this time Jackson will have an opportunity to see the end of his coaching contract would be foolish. Cleveland is still paying their current defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, for his last stint with the team a few years ago.
Scouting directors and personnel executives have a decent idea of which players are going to end up at the top of the 2017 draft board but nowhere near the type of picture they will have three or four months from now. Who are the Browns tanking for? A quarterback in the ACC who may or may not declare? Who may or may not complete the season healthy? Who may or may not be the best quarterback in or affiliated with his conference? Teams plan for the future, but it is hard to believe that the club would lure Jackson away from a cushy, tenured gig with the Bengals to a place that was designed to win one or two games in 2016.
The Browns do not have a playoff roster and would not have had a playoff roster if they kept Mack or Lee or Mingo or Gilbert. They still wouldn't have a playoff roster if they signed Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon this offseason. That makes them realistic, not a tanking team. For those still having a hard time believing that, I would watch a coach furiously swapping out his rookie quarterback for a converted wide receiver just to gain yardage while the rest of the league watched on, laughed and said "oh, that's so Browns." Jackson doesn't care how it looks. He just wants to win.