The NFL has suspended Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and fined him $1.5 million for manipulating Tom Brady and Sean Payton following a six-month investigation stemming from Brian Flores’ racial profiling lawsuit against the league.
The league’s investigation found that the Dolphins did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season, but the team did have an impermissible communication with Brady and his and Payton’s agent, Don Yee. The league announced the results of the investigation Tuesday.
The Dolphins will lose a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft and a third-round pick in the 2024 draft. Ross is suspended until Oct. 17.
“Investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “I am not aware of any previous case of a team violating the ban on manipulating both a head coach and a star player, to the potential detriment of many other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I am not aware of any previous case where property has been so directly involved in the violations.”
The investigation concluded that the Dolphins violated the league’s anti-tampering policy on three separate occasions. The Dolphins had impermissible communications with Brady from August 2019 through the 2020 postseason, while he was under contract with the New England Patriots.
Dolphins vice president and limited partner Bruce Beal conducted “these numerous and detailed discussions” and kept Ross and other team executives informed of his conversations with Brady.
The Dolphins again had unauthorized communications with both Brady and his agent, Yee, no later than early December 2021 and after the season, while he was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Those talks centered on Brady becoming a limited partner with the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive, though at times they also included the possibility of him playing for the Dolphins. The league says that Ross and Beal participated in these discussions.
Brady briefly retired in February before the seven-time Super Bowl champion decided to return for another season with the Buccaneers.
The third tampering violation involved Payton. In January, the Dolphins had impermissible communications with Yee about having Payton head coach in Miami. The Dolphins did not seek New Orleans’ consent for these discussions, which occurred before Payton announced his decision to leave the Saints. Miami requested permission to speak with Payton for the first time after that announcement, but New Orleans refused.
Ross’ suspension ends the same day Deshaun Watson is eligible to return from his six-game suspension. A disciplinary officer handed out Watson’s punishment Monday after the Cleveland Browns quarterback was accused by two dozen women in Texas of sexual misconduct during massage treatments. The NFL is considering whether to appeal that decision.
Ross will not be able to be present at the team facility and will not be able to represent the club at any team or NFL event during his suspension. He, too, will be unable to attend any league meetings before the 2023 annual meeting, and will be removed from all league committees indefinitely.
Beal was fined $500,000 and will not be able to attend any league meetings for the rest of the year.
Regarding Flores’ allegations that the Dolphins wanted him to “stack” games to secure the No. 1 pick in the draft, investigators said the team did not intentionally lose and neither Ross nor anyone on the team instructed Flores to lose on purpose. .
However, investigators found that Ross expressed his belief multiple times during the season that draft position should take precedence over win-loss record. Flores viewed the comments as a suggestion that he will miss games and expressed his concerns in writing to senior club executives. Ross no longer made those comments to Flores.
Investigators said there are differing recollections of the wording, timing and context of Flores’ claim of a $100,000 per game offer from the club to the tank, but “it was not intended or taken as a serious offer, nor was the subject was persecuted in any way” by Ross or anyone else in the club.
“I am grateful that the NFL investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross to be true,” Flores said in a statement. “At the same time, I am disappointed to learn that the investigator downplayed Mr. Ross’ offers and pressure for tank games, especially as I wrote and sent a letter at the time to Dolphins executives documenting my serious concerns regarding to this subject at the time that the researcher has in his possession.
“While the investigator found that the Dolphins had engaged in impermissible tampering of ‘unprecedented scope and severity,’ Mr. Ross will avoid any significant consequences. There is nothing more important when it comes to football itself than the integrity of the game. When the integrity of the game is questioned, the fans suffer and football suffers.”
Goodell chided Ross for making the comments.
“An owner or senior executive needs to understand the weight of their words and the risk that a comment will be taken seriously and acted upon, even if that is not the intent or expectation,” Goodell said. he joke and is not meant to be taken seriously, comments suggesting that draft position is more important than winning can be misconstrued and carry 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 letting any comment about the relative importance of draft position affect his commitment to winning throughout the season.”
Former federal prosecutor and SEC chairwoman Mary Jo White and a team of lawyers from the Debevoise law firm led the NFL investigation.