Dolphins Lose Draft Picks, and Owner Is Suspended for Tampering

The N.F.L. has suspended Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross and taken away two draft picks after an investigator found that the team violated the league’s anti-tampering policy by trying to lure quarterback Tom Brady and former head coach Sean Payton to Miami.

At the same time, the investigator, former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, found no evidence that Ross had ordered the team’s former head coach, Brian Flores, to deliberately lose games to improve its standing in the college draft, claims Flores made in a federal lawsuit in February.

White determined that Ross’s offer to pay Flores $100,000 for each game the Dolphins lost — one of the most inflammatory claims in his lawsuit — “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.”

As a result of the tampering charge, though, the Dolphins will forfeit their first-round draft pick in 2023 and their third-round pick in 2024. Ross will be suspended through Oct. 17, and will not be allowed at the team’s facility and may not represent the club at any team or league event. He will be removed from all league committees indefinitely and must pay a fine of $1.5 million.

In a statement, Goodell said White had found tampering violations “of unprecedented scope and severity.” He added: “I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”

The findings came after a six-month investigation that began after Flores filed his suit in federal court. The crux of the suit included allegations that the league and its teams had organized sham interviews with Flores and other coaches of color to skirt the rules that obligate teams to interview a diverse set of candidates for top job openings.

But the suit, which is still pending, also included allegations against Ross, who fired Flores after the 2021 season after three years on the job. Flores claimed Ross tried to bribe him to lose games and skirted the league’s prohibition on speaking to other players and coaches under contract without the permission of their teams.

The Dolphins were found to have had impermissible communications with Brady during the 2019 season and postseason, while he was playing for the New England Patriots. Those communications were said to be “numerous and detailed.” The Dolphins were found to again have had impermissible communications with both Brady and his agent in the 2021 season, while he was playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including discussions of Brady becoming a partner in the Dolphins.

The Dolphins were also found to have improperly tried to lure Payton to be coach of the team in January while he was still coach of the New Orleans Saints.

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