MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins forfeited two draft picks and owner Stephen Ross was suspended and fined $1.5 million after the NFL said Tuesday that they found "tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity."
The Dolphins were stripped of their first-round selection in next year's NFL draft and a third-round selection in the 2024 draft. Miami will retain their first-round pick in 2023 that they received in a trade with San Francisco.
Ross is suspended through Oct. 17, 2022, and may not be present at the Dolphins' facility or represent the club at any team or NFL event. In addition to the fine, Ross cannot attend any league meeting prior to the annual meeting in 2023 and is removed from all league committees indefinitely.
Dolphins' Vice Chairman Bruce Beal may not attend any NFL meeting for the remainder of the 2022 season and was fined $500,000
The announcement comes following a six-month investigation from 2019-2022 after allegations from former head coach Brian Flores.
The investigation focused on:
- Whether the Dolphins violated league rules prohibiting tampering with a player and a coach under contract to other clubs
- Whether, during the 2019 season, the Dolphins intentionally lost games to improve the club's draft position in the 2020 draft
- Whether Ross offered Flores financial incentives or otherwise encouraged him to lose games
The NFL said that the investigation "conclusively established" violations of the ant-tampering policy on three separate occasions, including those with current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.
The league laid out the following violations:
- The Dolphins had impermissible communications with Brady in 2019-20, while he was under contract to the New England Patriots. Those communications began as early as August 2019 and continued throughout the 2019 season and post-season. These numerous and detailed discussions were conducted by Beal, who in turn kept Ross and other Dolphins executives informed of his discussions with Brady.
- The Dolphins again had impermissible communications with both Brady and his agent during and after the 2021 season, while he was under contract to the Buccaneers. Those discussions began no later than early December 2021 and focused on Brady becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive, although at times they also included the possibility of his playing for the Dolphins. The NFL said that Ross and Beal were active participants in those discussions.
- In January 2022, the NFL said that the Dolphins had impermissible communications with Don Yee, the agent for New Orleans Saints' head coach Sean Payton, about having Payton serve as Miami's head coach. Miami did not seek consent from the Saints to have these discussions, which occurred before Payton announced his decision to retire as head coach of the Saints. Following that announcement, Miami requested permission to speak to Payton for the first time, which New Orleans declined to grant.
"The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. "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 also addressed whether the Dolphins intentionally lost games during the 2019 season to improve the club's draft position in the 2020 draft and whether Ross offered financial incentives or encouraged Flores to do so.
The NFL said the investigation also found the following:
- The Dolphins did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season. Nor did anyone at the club, including Ross, instruct Flores to do so. No witness contended otherwise. 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.
- On a number of occasions during the 2019 season, Ross expressed his belief that the Dolphins' position in the upcoming 2020 draft should take priority over the team's win-loss record. The NFL said those comments were made most frequently to Team President and CEO Tom Garfinkel, but were also made to General Manager Chris Grier, Senior Vice President Brandon Shore and Flores. The NFL said these comments, which he took to be suggestions that he lose games, troubled Flores and led him to express his concerns in writing to senior club executives, each of whom assured Flores that everyone, including Mr. Ross, supported him in building a winning culture in Miami. The NFL said after this occurred, Ross no longer made any such comments to Flores.
One such comment is a claimed offer by Ross to pay Flores $100,000 to lose games, as to which there are differing recollections about the wording, timing and context. However phrased, such a comment was not intended or taken to be a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued in any respect by Ross or anyone else at the club.
"Every club is expected to make a good faith effort to win every game," Goodell stated. "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 issued the following statement on the team's Twitter account regarding the punishment:
"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."