The NFL has suspended Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and fined him $1.5 million for tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton following a six-month investigation stemming from Brian Flores' racial discrimination lawsuit against the league.
The league's investigation found the Dolphins did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season but that the team had impermissible communication with Brady and his and Payton's agent, Don Yee. The league announced the findings of the investigation on Tuesday.
The Dolphins will forfeit a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL draft and a third-round selection in the 2024 draft. Ross is suspended through Oct. 17.
“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “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.”
The investigation concluded that the Dolphins violated the league's antitampering policy on three separate occasions. The Dolphins had impermissible communications with Brady as early as August 2019 through the 2020 postseason, while he was under contract to the New England Patriots.
Dolphins vice chairman/limited partner Bruce Beal conducted “these numerous and detailed discussions" and kept Ross and other team executives informed of his conversations with Brady.
The Dolphins again had impermissible communications with both Brady and his agent, Yee, no later than early December 2021 and after the season, while he was under contract to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Those discussions focused on Brady becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive, although at times they also included the possibility he would play for the Dolphins. The league says Ross and Beal participated in these discussions.
Brady briefly retired in February before the seven-time Super Bowl champion chose to return for another season with the Buccaneers.
The third tampering violation involved Payton. In January, the Dolphins had impermissible communications with Yee about having Payton serve as Miami’s head coach. The Dolphins did not seek consent from New Orleans to have these discussions, which occurred before Payton announced his decision to retire from the Saints. Miami requested permission to speak to Payton for the first time after that announcement, but New Orleans declined to grant it.
Ross may not be present at the team's facility and may not represent the club at any team or NFL event during his suspension. He also may not attend any league meeting before the annual meeting in 2023, and he is removed from all league committees indefinitely.
Beal was fined $500,000 and may not attend any league meeting for the remainder of the year.
“I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment,” Ross said of the tampering conclusion. “However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing is that there be no distractions for our team as we begin an exciting and winning season.”
Regarding Flores' allegations that the Dolphins wanted him to “tank” games to secure the top draft pick, investigators said the team didn't intentionally lose and neither Ross nor anyone from the team instructed Flores to lose on purpose.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.