NFL suspends Miami Dolphins owner, strips team of draft picks in rigging and waste investigation



CNN

The NFL stripped the Miami Dolphins of two draft picks and suspended and fined owner Stephen Ross after an investigation into allegations of rigging and waste found his team had inadmissible contact with star quarterback Tom Brady and former Saints coach Sean Payton’s agent.

The investigation, led by former federal prosecutor and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White and attorneys from the Debevoise law firm, found the Dolphins violated anti-tampering rules three times, the NFL announced in a news release Tuesday. . The investigation also found that the team did not intentionally lose games, known as tanking, but noted that Ross repeatedly suggested the team should prioritize draft position over winning games during the 2019 season, according to the statement.

As punishment, the Dolphins will forfeit their first-round pick in the 2023 draft and a third-round pick in the 2024 draft. Ross is suspended until Oct. 17, six games into the 2022 season and fined $1.5 million, according to the statement.

“Regarding the tampering, I totally disagree with the conclusions and the punishment,” Ross said in a statement posted on the Miami Dolphins’ Twitter account. “However, I will accept the result because the most important thing is that there are no distractions for our team as we start an exciting and winning season. I won’t let anything get in the way of that.”

The investigation found that the Dolphins had “inadmissible communications” with Brady in 2019-20 while he was a member of the New England Patriots and again during and after the 2021 season when he was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the NFL. release. Those second discussions focused on Brady “becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive,” and also included the possibility of playing for the Dolphins, the investigation found.

The league discovered that Dolphins vice president Bruce Beal led the contact with Brady and fined him $500,000. The Dolphins had no comment when asked about Beal’s actions.

Additionally, in January 2022, the Dolphins had “disallowed communications” with Payton’s agent, who was the head coach of the New Orleans Saints at the time and has since retired.

“Investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “I am not aware of any previous case of a team violating the ban on manipulating both a head coach and a star player, to the potential detriment of many other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I am not aware of any previous case where property has been so directly involved in the violations.”

The investigation also examined whether the Dolphins intentionally lost games in the 2019 season to improve their draft position, known as tanking. The Dolphins ultimately finished the 2019 season with a 5-11 record and earned the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

The NFL investigation found that the team did not intentionally lose games nor did any member of the club, including Ross, instruct then-Dolphins coach Brian Flores to forfeit games, according to the statement. However, the investigation found that Ross repeatedly expressed his belief that the team’s draft position should take precedence over win-loss record.

In February, Flores told CNN that Ross explicitly told him he would give him $100,000 for every game Flores lost. Ross denied the allegations at the time, calling the claims “baseless, unfair and derogatory.”

The investigation found that people had “different memories of the wording, timing and context” of the claimed offer, according to the NFL news release.

“Whatever the wording, such a comment was not intended or taken as a serious offer, nor did Mr Ross or anyone else at the club address the matter in any way,” the statement said.

Goodell said in a statement that the comment, even if made as a joke, risked damaging the integrity of the game.

“Each club is expected to make a good faith effort to win each match,” he said in a statement. “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 of their words and the risk that a comment will be taken seriously and acted upon, even if that is not the intention or expectation. Even if made in jest and not meant to be taken seriously, comments suggesting that draft position is more important than winning can be misconstrued and carry an unnecessary potential risk to the integrity of the game.”

He praised Flores, who was fired earlier this year and has sued the Dolphins, the NFL and other teams alleging racial discrimination, for continuing to try to win games. The NFL and the teams have denied the allegations.

“The comments made by Mr. Ross did not affect Coach Flores’ commitment to win and the Dolphins competed to win every game,” Goodell said. “Coach Flores is to be commended for not letting any comment about the relative importance of draft position affect his commitment to winning during the season.”

In a statement, Flores expressed his disappointment at what he says is the NFL’s investigation downplaying Ross’ comments about the tank.

“I am grateful that the NFL investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross to be true,” Flores said. “At the same time, I am disappointed to learn that the investigator downplayed Mr. Ross’ offers and pressure to tank games, especially as I wrote and submitted a letter at the time to Dolphins executives documenting my serious concerns regarding this topic at the time that the researcher has in his possession.

His attorneys, Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis, expressed similar disappointment in the investigation’s assessment of Ross’ comments.

“We are certainly bummed that the investigator, and apparently the Commissioner, excused the highly inappropriate comments that go to the heart of the game’s integrity regarding tanking as a joke, especially when there was a letter written by Coach Flores at the time demonstrating the gravity with which these comments were received by Coach Flores,” they said in a statement.

“The punishment announced today is obviously inappropriate and discouraging. Unfortunately, it is clear that the NFL cannot control itself, so we hope to continue to push through the legal process, test all of Brian’s claims, as well as those of a class of Black executives, coaches, and candidates, and force change in the NFL. NFL”.

Meanwhile, Ross in his statement said the investigation had cleared the Dolphins of sinking.

“The independent investigation cleared our organization of any issues related to the sinking and all other allegations by Brian Flores,” he said. “As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and this issue is now resolved.”

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