The league concluded that the Dolphins did not purposely attempt to lose games during the 2019 season in an effort to improve their positioning in the 2020 NFL draft. But it found that Ross and the Dolphins had been tampering with quarterback Tom Brady, now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the agent of former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
The NFL suspended Ross through October 17, removed him from all league committees, and fined him $1.5 million. The Dolphins will lose their first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft and a third-round pick in 2024, the league said.
Mary Jo White leads NFL investigation into dolphin fueling allegations
“The investigators have found violations of unprecedented magnitude and seriousness,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “I know of no previous instance of a team that has violated the ban on tampering with both a head coach and a star player, to the detriment of multiple other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I know of no previous instance where ownership was so directly involved at the violations.
Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, oversaw the investigation, which began after Flores filed his lawsuit on Feb. 1. In it, he accused Ross of giving him $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season in a bid to secure the best draft pick the following spring.
“The independent investigation cleared our organization of all issues related to fueling and Brian Flores[’s] other allegations,” said Ross in a statement released by the dolphins on Tuesday. “As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and this matter has now been closed. As for tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing is that there is no distraction for our team as we start an exciting and winning season.”
The investigation found that the Dolphins did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season and that Ross’ $100,000 offer “was not intended or construed as a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued by Mr. Ross or someone else at the club.”
“Every club is expected to do their best in good faith to win every game,” Goodell said. “The integrity of the game and the public’s trust in professional football demand no less. An owner or senior executive must understand the weight his or her words carry, and the risk that a comment will be taken seriously and acted upon, even if it is is not the intention or expectation.”
The Dolphins finished with a 5-11 record in 2019 and used the number 5 pick in the 2020 draft over quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Quarterback Joe Burrow went first in that draft to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Mr Ross’ comments did not affect Coach Flores’ commitment to win and the Dolphins competed to win every game,” Goodell said. “Coach Flores deserves credit for not allowing any comment about the relative importance of the draft position to influence his commitment to win the entire season.”
NFL plans to investigate Brian Flores tanking and tamper with dolphin accusations
The dolphins shot Flores in January. He is now a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Flores said in a statement released Tuesday by his attorneys that he was “grateful that the NFL investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross to be true,” but was “disappointed to learn that the investigator has minimized those allegations.”
“While the researcher found that the dolphins had engaged in illicit manipulation of ‘unprecedented magnitude and severity,’ Mr. Ross will avoid any meaningful consequence,” Flores said. “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.”
The NFL’s investigation found that the Dolphins had unauthorized communications with Brady in 2019 and 2020 while he was under contract with the New England Patriots. The team also had unauthorized communications with Brady and his agent, who did not name the league, during and after the 2021 season while he was under contract with the Buccaneers.
According to the investigation, discussions with Brady and his agent were “focused on Mr. Brady becoming a Dolphins limited partner and possibly serving as football director, although at times they also included the possibility that he would play for the Dolphins. “
Flores’ lawsuit stated that after the 2019 season, Ross began to pressure Flores to “recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of the League’s manipulation rules.” Flores declined but was invited to meet Ross on a yacht for lunch in the winter of 2020. Ross then told Flores, according to Flores’ lawsuit, “that the prominent quarterback arrived ‘easily’ at the marina.” Flores refused to attend the meeting and left the yacht, his lawsuit says.
According to the NFL, in January 2022, the Dolphins also had unauthorized communications with Agent Don Yee about Payton becoming the Miami coach, without the Saints’ approval. Payton stepped aside from the Saints after last season.
Yee, who also represents Brady, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The NFL also fined Bruce Beal, a limited partner and vice chairman of the Dolphins, $500,000 and banned him from attending league meetings until the 2022 season for his role in communicating with Brady. Ross will not be able to attend league meetings until next spring. He cannot be with the Dolphins during his suspension.
“The sentence announced today is clearly inadequate and discouraging,” Flores’ attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis said in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, it remains clear that the NFL cannot control itself, which is why we look forward to continuing the legal process, proving all of Brian’s claims… and enforcing real change on the NFL.”
White also conducts the NFL’s ongoing investigation into the latest allegations against the Washington Commanders and their owner, Daniel Snyder.