Six months after former Dolphins coach Brian Flores accused team owner Stephen Ross offor a better draft position, the NFL has temporarily stripped Miami of both Ross and premium draft picks, NFL Media reports. Commissioner Roger Goodell informed the franchise Tuesday that a league investigation found Ross at least hinted at prioritizing draft picks over a winning record in 2019, and that he impermissibly had repeated communications with both Tom Brady and Sean Payton while trying to recruit the big names to his team. As a result, Ross has been fined $1.5 million and suspended through Oct. 17, while the Dolphins must forfeit their 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick for “violating the integrity of the game.”
The NFL investigation found that the Dolphins did not intentionally lose games in 2019, when the team finished 5-11, and could not support Flores’ notable claim that Ross offered him $100,000 for every loss that season: “(There) are different recollections about the wording, timing and context (of the remark). However phrased, such a comment was not intended or taken to be a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued in any respect by Mr. Ross or anyone else at the club.” It did, however, confirm that Ross repeatedly suggested to Flores, team president Tom Garfinkel and general manager Chris Grier that 2020 draft positioning should trump a better 2019 win total. Ross’ comments, Goodell wrote, “even if made in jest … carry with them an unnecessary potential risk.”
More than the tanking allegations, the NFL in its Tuesday ruling harped on the Dolphins’ contact with Brady and Payton, citing “tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity.” The investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, found that Ross and the Dolphins had “impermissible communications” with Brady on two different occasions — first in 2019, as early as August of that season, while the quarterback played for the rival Patriots; and again during and after the 2021 season, before Brady retired, and later returned, to the Buccaneers. “Those discussions … focused on Brady becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive,” the investigation found, “although at times they also included the possibility of his playing for the Dolphins.”
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The NFL investigation revealed Ross and the Dolphins also illegally contacted Don Yee, the agent for Payton, in January while the longtime Saints coach was still employed by New Orleans: “Miami did not seek consent from New Orleans to have these discussions, which occurred before Coach Payton announced his decision to retire as head coach of the Saints,” the NFL said. “Following that announcement, Miami requested permission to speak to Coach Payton for the first time, which New Orleans declined to grant.”
While serving his suspension, Ross is not permitted to be present at the Dolphins’ facility or represent the club at any team or NFL event. He is also prohibited from attending any league meetings prior to the annual NFL owners meeting in 2023, or any league committee communications. Bruce Beal, the Dolphins’ vice chairman, has also been barred from attending any league meetings for the remainder of the 2022 season, and fined $500,000.
Flores said in a statement that he was disappointed that Ross “will avoid any meaningful consequence” with Tuesday’s discipline.
“I am thankful that the NFL’s investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross are true. At the same time, I am disappointed to learn that the investigator minimized Mr. Ross’s offers and pressure to tank games especially when I wrote and submitted a letter at the time to Dolphins executives documenting my serious concerns regarding this subject at the time which the investigator has in her possession,” he said. “While the investigator found that the Dolphins had engaged in impermissible tampering of ‘unprecedented scope and severity,’ Mr. Ross will avoid any meaningful consequence. There is nothing more important when it comes to the game of football itself than the integrity of the game. When the integrity of the game is called into question, fans suffer, and football suffers.”
Ross released his own statement regarding the punishment, downplaying the tampering charges while celebrating a victory over Flores’ allegations of tanking: “The independent investigation cleared our organization on any issues related to tanking and all of Brian Flores’ other allegations. As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and this issue is now put to rest. With regards to tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing is that there be no distractions for our team as we begin an exciting and winning season. I will not allow anything to get in the way of that.”