The NFL on Tuesday suspended and fined Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and stripped the team of two draft picks following a league investigation into tampering and tanking allegations from 2019-22.
A six-month probe led by former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White found the club had “impermissible communications” with Tom Brady on two occasions in an effort to lure the star quarterback to Miami, as well as with the agent for former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
The Dolphins forfeit a first-round pick in 2023 and a third-round selection in 2024. Ross was suspended from all activities through Oct. 17 and fined $1.5 million by the league. He was removed indefinitely from all league committees.
“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a news release. “I know of no prior instance of a team violating the prohibition on tampering with both a head coach and star player, to the potential detriment of multiple other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”
The investigation concluded that the Dolphins reached out to Brady as far back as 2019 when he was under contract with the rival New England Patriots and that both Ross and Bruce Beal, the team’s vice chairman and limited partner, were involved.
Beal was fined $500,000 and banned from attending any league meeting for the rest of the 2022 season.
The investigation, however, did not find evidence to support the claim of former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores that he was offered money to intentionally lose games to enhance the team’s draft position in 2020.
The report said the team “competed hard to win every game” but acknowledged that Ross made a number of comments that draft position “should take priority over the team’s win-loss record.”
When Flores expressed “his concerns in writing to senior club executives, each of whom assured Coach Flores that everyone, including Mr. Ross, supported him in building a winning culture in Miami,” the comments stopped, the report said.
“Every club is expected to make a good faith effort to win every game,” Goodell said. “The integrity of the game, and public confidence in professional football, demand no less. An owner or senior executive must understand the weight that his or her words carry, and the risk that a comment will be taken seriously and acted upon, even if that is not the intent or expectation. Even if made in jest and not intended to be taken seriously, comments suggesting that draft position is more important than winning can be misunderstood and carry with them an unnecessary potential risk to the integrity of the game.
“The comments made by Mr. Ross did not affect Coach Flores’ commitment to win and the Dolphins competed to win every game. Coach Flores is to be commended for not allowing any comment about the relative importance of draft position to affect his commitment to win throughout the season.”
Ross released a statement saying that although he “strongly disagree(s)” with the findings of tampering, he will accept the punishment. He also said he was pleased to put the tanking allegations to rest.
“The independent investigation cleared our organization of 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,” Ross said.
“With regard 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.”
Ross, 82, who made billions in New York real estate, completed the purchase of the Dolphins and their stadium for $1 billion in 2009. In 2021, Forbes valued the team at $3.42 billion.
Flores was fired in January 2022 with two years remaining on his contract, despite leading Miami to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2002-03.
Flores and his attorney, Douglas H. Wigdor, both released statements following Tuesday’s league announcement.
“We are certainly disheartened that the investigator, and apparently the Commissioner, excused highly inappropriate comments that go to the heart of the game’s integrity regarding tanking as being in jest especially when there was a letter written by Coach Flores at the time demonstrating the gravity with which these comments were received by Coach Flores,” Wigdor said.
Added Flores, “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.”
–Field Level Media