The National Football League (NFL) docked the Miami Dolphins draft picks and suspended team owner Stephen Ross for violating the league’s anti-tampering policy on Tuesday but said the team did not intentionally lose games in the 2019 season.
The Dolphins must forfeit their 2023 first-round pick and third-round pick in 2024, the league said. Ross received a $1.5 million fine and will be prohibited from representing the club at any NFL event through Oct. 17.
The Dolphins had “impermissible communications” with quarterback Tom Brady while he was with the New England Patriots in 2019 and in 2021 when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the findings of the investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chair Mary Jo White.
The inquiry found the Dolphins had also improperly communicated with the agent for New Orleans Saints’ then-head coach Sean Payton in January.
The NFL’s anti-tampering rules prevent teams interfering in the relationship between employer and employee at another club.
Ross said he strongly disagrees with the findings and the punishment with regard to tampering but will accept the outcome.
“The most important thing is that there be no distractions for our team as we begin an exciting and winning season,” he said in a statement. “I will not allow anything to get in the way of that.”
But the NFL said that the team did not intentionally lose games – or “tank” – during the 2019 season, as had been alleged by former head coach Brian Flores.
Flores, who is Black, was fired in January after back-to-back seasons with winning records and sued the NFL and its teams in February alleging discrimination against Black candidates for top-level coaching and management jobs in the NFL. read more
He said he was offered $100,000 per loss in 2019 by Ross, in order to help improve the team’s draft position.
The NFL said that “such a comment was not intended or taken to be a serious offer” but that Ross “expressed his belief that the Dolphins’ position in the upcoming 2020 draft should take priority over the team’s win-loss record,” prompting Flores to express his concerns to senior executives at the team.
After those concerns were raised, Ross no longer made such remarks to Flores, the NFL said.
“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,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
“The comments made by Mr. Ross did not affect Coach Flores’ commitment to win.”
Flores said he was “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,” he added in a statement.
Ross said he believed that the findings cleared the Dolphins of allegations of tanking and all of Flores’s other allegations.
“These allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and this issue is now put to rest,” he said.
SOURCE: Reuters – Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York Editing by Toby Davis