NFL slams Dolphins with $1.5 million fine and suspension for Ross, loss of draft picks for tampering, but says team didn’t try to lose

NFL slams Dolphins with $1.5 million fine and suspension for Ross, loss of draft picks for tampering, but says team didn’t try to lose

The Miami Dolphins have been stripped of two draft picks, including a 2023 first-rounder, and owner Steve Ross is suspended through Oct. 17 and fined $1.5 million after the NFL announced findings following an independent investigation of policy violations.

The NFL’s press release Tuesday announced that, while the team did not intentionally lose games — or tank — during the 2019 season, Miami had “impermissible communication” with quarterback Tom Brady between 2019 and 2020, while he was with the New England Patriots, as well as in 2021, when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The six-month investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chair Mary Jo White, looked into allegations made by ex-coach Brian Flores as part of a class-action lawsuit filed in the aftermath of his firing from the Dolphins.

The Dolphins must forfeit their own 2023 first-round pick. They still own one from the San Francisco 49ers. Miami also is stripped of a third-round selection in the 2024 draft.

During Ross’ suspension, he may not be present at Dolphins’ facilities and may not represent the club at any team or NFL event. Ross may not attend league meetings before to the annual meeting in 2023 and is removed from all league committees indefinitely.

Bruce Beal, Dolphins’ vice chairman and limited partner who is in waiting to buy the team from Ross, is not allowed to attend league meetings for the remainder of 2022 and was fined $500,000.

Flores’ most damning claim against Ross in his lawsuit was that he offered him $100,000 to lose games in 2019, Flores’ first season at the helm. The investigation found “differing recollections about the wording, time and context” in clearing the owner of that allegation.

“The Dolphins competed hard to win every game, including at the end of the season when they beat Cincinnati and New England, despite worsening Miami’s position in the 2020 draft,” the release said, while noting Ross expressed belief that the Dolphins’ position in the 2020 draft should take priority over the team’s record.

The investigation, however, did find tampering violations with Brady. The NFL found that that communication between the Dolphins and Brady began in August 2019 and continued through that regular season and postseason. The NFL said there were more “impermissible communications” while Brady was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021.

“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in the 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 NFL also determined the Dolphins tampered with New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton in January 2022, noting impermissible communications with Payton’s agent, Don Yee, about Payton serving as Miami coach without consent from the Saints — before Payton’s retirement this offseason.

Ross reacted to the league’s findings with a statement Tuesday.

“The independent investigation clears 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,” Ross said in a statement.

“With regard to tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusion 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.”

Flores also offered his reaction with a statement.

“I am thankful that the NFL’s investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross are true,” Flores said. “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.

“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.”

Following a sixth training camp practice on Tuesday at team facilities, which had energy from fans drained as news spread, one player that was with the team in 2019, wide receiver Preston Williams, spoke to the media.

“I don’t know if what Flo was saying was true or not,” Williams said. “All I try to do is win and help the team.”

There is no discipline expected for either Brady or Payton.

The first- and third-round pick plus $1.5 million fine is believed to be the harshest tampering penalty handed down by the NFL. In 2016, the Kansas City Chiefs were docked a third- and sixth-round pick and fined in excess of $300,000 for contacting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin three days before his free agency.

The tampering findings and tanking allegations are the latest in a series of embarrassing moments for the Dolphins during Ross’ ownership, which began in 2009. The franchise pursued Jim Harbaugh as coach in 2011 while Tony Sparano was still holding the position; it had the 2014 bullying scandal with offensive lineman Richie Incognito at the heart of it; and, in 2017, assistant coach Chris Foerster was seen on video snorting a white powder.

Flores’ lawsuit was filed with the intention of exposing what he feels are racial inequalities in hiring practices for coaches in top positions in the NFL. He claimed his resistance to Ross’ request, in a season where the Dolphins had a chance at the No. 1 draft pick if they kept losing, played a part in his firing following the 2021 season. Since the NFL investigation did not address racial inequities, it’s unlikely the findings will have much impact on the civil lawsuit.

In 2019, Flores led a team largely void of talent to five wins, which resulted in Miami ending up with the No. 5 pick in the 2020 draft. The Dolphins used the selection to draft quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Flores had back-to-back winning seasons the following two campaigns, which made the move by Ross and the Dolphins to fire him on Jan. 10 a bit of a surprise.

Flores expected to be hired for another NFL head coaching vacancy this offseason, but several teams passed. He described, in his lawsuit, feeling like he went through a sham interview with the New York Giants, a notion sparked by a mistaken congratulatory text from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who meant to send the message to his other former assistant coach named Brian, Brian Daboll. Daboll, who was previously Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator, landed the Giants job.

Goodell has previously stated he cannot simply remove an owner, as he said regarding Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder and the ongoing scrutiny into the organization’s workplace culture and accusations from female employees of pervasive sexual harassment by team executives.

Ross has owned the Dolphins since 2009. Should he sell the team, Beal, a New York real estate executive and current Dolphins vice chairman and partner, has the contractual right to acquire the team.

After firing Flores, the Dolphins hired former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel as coach. Before that move, Miami was reported to have pursued Payton, who retired this offseason, to pair him with Brady, who briefly retired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in 2022 before announcing a return.


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