MIAMI -- The NFL notified the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday that the team would be stripped of its 2023 first-round pick, among other disciplinary measures, for violations of league policies relating to the integrity of the game.
Following a six-month investigation, the league found the Dolphins -- primarily team owner Stephen Ross and vice chairman/limited partner Bruce Beal -- violated the anti-tampering policy on three occasions from 2019 to 2022 in conversations with quarterback Tom Brady and the agent for then-New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
The NFL, however, found no evidence that the team intentionally lost games during the 2019 season. In February, former Dolphins coach Brian Flores said in his lawsuit alleging racism in the league's hiring practices that Ross attempted to incentivize him to "tank," or purposely lose games, shortly after he was hired in 2019, with Ross allegedly offering Flores $100,000 for every loss that season. Flores alleged that as the team won games late in the season, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier told him Ross was "mad" that the on-field success was "compromising [the team's] draft position."
In addition to the first-round pick, the Dolphins also will forfeit their 2024 third-round selection.
Ross, meanwhile, was fined $1.5 million and suspended through Oct. 17, during which time he isn't permitted to be at the Dolphins' facility or represent the team at any team event. He also can't attend any league meeting before the annual meeting in 2023.
Beal was fined $500,000 and isn't permitted to attend any league meetings for the rest of the 2022 season.
Brady will not incur any punishment for the Dolphins' tampering, NFL league spokesperson Brian McCarthy told ESPN's Jenna Laine.
Beal spearheaded impermissible communications with Brady, then the New England Patriots' quarterback, while he was still under contract; Ross and other Dolphins executives were informed of the content of those conversations.
Both Ross and Beal tampered with Brady once again following the 2021 season, when he was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This time, however, the conversation centered on Brady joining the team as a limited partner and possibly a football executive -- although the possibility of him playing for the team was discussed, according to the league's investigation.
Finally, in January 2022, the NFL found that the Dolphins had "impermissible communications" with agent Don Yee -- who represents both Brady and Payton -- about Payton serving as Miami's next head coach. The league found that the Dolphins "did not seek consent" from the Saints to begin these talks and that they occurred before Payton retired later that month.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called the league's findings "unprecedented."
"The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity," 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."
Flores said in a statement that he was disappointed that Ross "will avoid any meaningful consequence" with Tuesday's discipline.
"I am 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 regarding this subject at the time which the investigator has in her possession," he said. "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."
While it found no evidence the Dolphins tried to tank in 2019, the investigation did find that Ross made comments to team president and CEO Tom Garfinkel, Grier, senior vice president Brandon Shore and Flores that the team's draft position should take priority over winning games. When Flores expressed his concerns in writing, he was assured that everyone wanted him to build a "winning culture in Miami," and Ross never again made those comments to Flores.
"The independent investigation cleared our organization on any issues relating 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 in a statement. "With regards to tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing us 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."
The investigation also found that Ross' offer of $100,000 for every loss, of which there were "differing recollections about the wording, timing, and context ... 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."
"Every club is expected to make a good faith effort to win every game," Goodell's statement read. "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. 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."
The Dolphins were one of five teams that had multiple first-round selections in the 2023 draft before Tuesday's discipline. Miami had acquired the additional first-round pick from the San Francisco 49ers in the trade that allowed the Niners to select Trey Lance third overall last year.
On Wednesday, when asked if it bothers him another team was talking to Brady, Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said, "It doesn't bother me. There's just not a lot going on in sports right now. We're not making it any bigger than it is."