NFL Suspends Miami Dolphins Owner for Violating League Rules to Talk to Tom Brady and Sean Payton

·5 min read
Stephen Ross, tom brady
Stephen Ross, tom brady

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The NFL suspended Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for six weeks after they found his club tampered with league rules in their attempts to bring quarterback Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton to the team.

In addition to his suspension, the league said Ross was fined $1.5 million after an investigation found that Dolphins representatives had "impermissible communications" with Brady while he was a member of the New England Patriots and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ross' vice chairman, Bruce Beal, allegedly had conversations with the seven-time Super Bowl champion about him potentially becoming an executive or partner with the team, or playing for Miami, the NFL said in a news release published on Tuesday.

"Those communications began as early as August 2019 and continued throughout the 2019 season and post-season," they explained. "These numerous and detailed discussions were conducted by Mr. Beal, who in turn kept Mr. Ross and other Dolphins executives informed of his discussions with Mr. Brady."

"The Dolphins again had impermissible communications with both Mr. Brady and his agent during and after the 2021 season, while he was under contract to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," the league continued. "Those discussions began no later than early December 2021 and focused on Mr. Brady becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive, although at times they also included the possibility of his playing for the Dolphins."

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The league also said the Dolphins had prohibited contact with the agent of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton about him joining Miami. The conversations happened without the approval of the Saints and before Payton announced his retirement from coaching in January.

Sean Payton
Sean Payton

Wesley Hitt/Getty

After Payton announced his retirement, the Dolphins then reached out to the Saints for permission to speak with him, which the club declined, the NFL said.

"The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity," 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," he added.

The NFL's investigation also looked into whether the Dolphins intentionally lost games to improve their position in the 2020 Draft and whether Ross encouraged then head coach Brian Flores to lose the games.

Ultimately, the probe concluded that the team did not intentionally lose games. However, Ross did "express his belief" that the team's draft position was more important than their record for the season. Flores told Dolphins executives that the comments troubled him, and Ross no longer made them, the league said.

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Another claim, that Ross allegedly said he would pay Flores $100,000 to lose games, was found to be incorrect.

As a result of the findings, the Dolphins will also lose their first-round selection in the 2023 NFL draft and a third-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

PEOPLE has reached out to representatives of Brady, Ross and Payton for comment. In a statement shared with PEOPLE, Ross agreed with the league's decision on the tanking allegations, but not the questions of tampering.

"The independent investigation cleared our organization on any issues related to tanking and all of Brian Flores' other allegations. As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and this issue is now put to rest," Ross said. "With regards to tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. 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. I will not allow anything to get in the way of that."

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In a statement sent to PEOPLE, Flores — who is now the senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers — said he is "thankful" that the investigation found his allegations against Ross were "true." However, Flores said he is "disappointed" with the penalties placed on Ross and the Dolphins.

"I am thankful that the NFL's investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross are true," Flores explained. "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."

He added: "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."

In the NFL's news release, Goodell said that the league's findings were "unprecedented."

"Every club is expected to make a good faith effort to win every game," Goodell said. "The integrity of the game, and public confidence in professional football, demand no less. An owner or senior executive must understand the weight that his or her words carry, and the risk that a comment will be taken seriously and acted upon, even if that is not the intent or expectation."

"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," he continued. "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."