Dolphins, team owner Stephen Ross face discipline after NFL's game integrity probe

The NFL found that former head coach Brian Flores was not instructed to lose games intentionally

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Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was suspended by the league and was docked two draft picks following the NFL’s lengthy investigation into tampering allegations between 2019-2022 that involved improper conversations with Tom Brady and Sean Payton and accusations that former head coach Brian Flores was instructed to lose games intentionally, the league announced Tuesday. 

The Dolphins will be forced to forfeit a 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick, while Ross will be suspended from team operations through Oct. 17, 2022, and pay a $1.5 million fine as a result of the NFL’s probe, the league said. He will also be barred from all league meetings prior to the Annual Meeting in 2023 and was removed from all league committees indefinitely.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, speaks with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Oct. 3, 2021.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, speaks with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Oct. 3, 2021. (Mark Brown/Getty Images)

The NFL issued a memo finalizing its findings following a six-month probe led by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chair Mary Jo White into allegations that the Dolphins violated the league’s anti-tampering policy following "impermissible communications" with then-New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the former New Orleans Saints coach Payton via his agent between August 2019 and January 2022. 

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"The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo. "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."

According to the memo, Dolphins vice chairman and limited partner Bruce Beal engaged in conversations with Brady while he was under contract with the Patriots, beginning in August 2019 and again in 2021 when he was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Ross was kept "informed" of those conversations, which included 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 revealed.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on the field before an NFL game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sept. 26, 2021.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on the field before an NFL game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sept. 26, 2021. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The Dolphins have also been charged with speaking to Payton’s agent in January of this year over the possibility of having him join the team as the new head coach — prior to his retirement being announced. 

The NFL’s probe also looked into accusations made by former head coach Flores that the Dolphins intentionally lost games during the 2019 season to improve their draft stock and that Flores himself was encouraged to do so. 

"​​The Dolphins did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season," the memo continued. "Nor did anyone at the club, including Mr. Ross, instruct Coach 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."

The investigation found that while Ross did make comments about the 2020 NFL Draft taking priority over the Dolphins' record and one alleged comment about paying Flores $100,000 to lose games, the remarks were "not intended or taken to be a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued in any respect by Mr. Ross or anyone else at the club."

Dolphins head coach Brian Flores walks off the field next to team owner Stephen Ross after a loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2021.

Dolphins head coach Brian Flores walks off the field next to team owner Stephen Ross after a loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2021. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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Flores released a statement Tuesday, in response to the league’s findings:

"I am thankful that the NFL’s investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross are true. 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." 

He continued: "While the investigator found that the Dolphins had engaged in impermissible tampering of ‘unprecedented scope and severity,’ 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."

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores takes the field against the New York Giants on Dec. 5, 2021.

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores takes the field against the New York Giants on Dec. 5, 2021. (John McCall/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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Flores, hired as a senior defensive assistant for the Pittsburgh Steelers in February, filed a lawsuit against the NFL, Dolphins, New York Giants and Denver Broncos following his dismissal by Miami. Flores led Miami to consecutive winning seasons before he was fired in January. 

Flores’ lawsuit alleges the league has discriminated against him and other Black coaches for racial reasons, denying them positions as head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and quarterback coaches, as well as general managers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.