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Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross Fined, Suspended for Role in Tampering

  • The Dolphins lose their first-round selection in next year’s draft along with a third-round pick in 2024. 
  • Dolphins Vice Chairman Bruce Beal was fined $500,000.
Tampering Dolphins
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was fined $1.5 million and suspended through the middle of October, and his team was docked draft picks over what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell described as “tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity.”

The three-page findings from the outside investigation by former SEC chair Mary Jo White were made public Tuesday.

White found that Dolphins “had impermissible communications with quarterback Tom Brady in 2019-20, while he was under contract to the New England Patriots” and again last season while Brady was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The more recent tampering White found was that the “Dolphins had impermissible communications with Don Yee, the agent for New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, about having Mr. Payton serve as Miami’s head coach.” 

More details on the penalties announced: 

  • The Dolphins lose their first-round selection in next year’s draft along with a third-round pick in 2024. 
  • Ross’ suspension through Oct. 17 means he can’t be present at the team’s facility or attend a team or league event. Ross is also barred from attending the next league meeting this fall. 
  • Dolphins Vice Chairman Bruce Beal is also barred from the next league meeting and he was fined $500,000. 

But it’s also notable what White did not find: Corroboration that the Dolphins tanked games in 2019.

Brian Flores said Ross offered him $100,000 per loss, according to the racial discrimination lawsuit filed on his behalf earlier this year.

That doesn’t, however, mean Ross never said he’d pay Flores to lose games. Ross just didn’t mean it, apparently. 

White determined that the comment “was 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.”

Flores said in a statement to Front Office Sports issued by his lawyer that he’s “thankful” White found his “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,” Flores said.

“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.”

Goodell said in a statement owners and executives “must understand the weight that his or her words carry.”

“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,” Goodell said.

“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 said in a statement released by the Dolphins that the investigation “cleared” the team of tanking allegations. The investigative findings showed “on a number of occasions during the 2019 season” that Ross made comments about how the “2020 draft should take priority over the team’s win-loss record.”

Ross made those comments to Team President and CEO Tom Garfinkel, GM Chris Grier, Senior VP President Brandon Shore and Flores, according to the findings.

“As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory,” Ross said in the statement.

White’s findings and the punishments laid out came a day after former federal judge Sue L. Robinson suspended Deshaun Watson for six games related to the many allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against the Cleveland Browns quarterback.

Robinson noted in her decision that the NFLPA questioned whether the league is “fair and consistent” in the hearing as “various team owners who have been accused of similar or worse conduct” faced no consequences under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Ross became the first owner suspended since Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay received a six-game ban in 2014 after he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated.

Ross’ ban also equates to six games, meaning he will be able to return to the Dolphins the same time as Watson can play his first game with the Browns.