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NFL strips Dolphins of draft picks for Brady, Payton contact; fines, suspends owner Ross

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was fined $1.5 million Tuesday by the NFL after independent investigators found he violated league policy. Photo by Jason Szenes/EPA-EFE

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla., Aug. 2 (UPI) — The NFL stripped the Miami Dolphins of two draft picks and fined and suspended team owner Stephen Ross for violations of its integrity of the game policy, the league announced Tuesday.

Commissioner Roger Goodell informed the Dolphins of the violations, which followed a six-month independent investigation by Securities and former Securities and Exchange Chair Mary Jo White and a team of lawyers.

“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” Goodell said in a news release.

“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 Dolphins forfeited a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft as part of the discipline.

Ross is suspended through Oct. 17. He was fined $1.5 million. Dolphins vice chairman and limited partner (team owner) Bruce Beal also was suspended from league meetings in 2022 and fined $500,000.

The investigation found that the Dolphins had “impermissible communications” with Tom Brady while the star quarterback was under contract with the New England Patriots in 2019-20 and after the 2021 season, when he was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Those discussions were conducted by Bruce Beal, the Dolphins’ vice chairman, whom the league said kept Ross and other Dolphins executives informed of the talks with Brady.

The league said other contact occurred between the Dolphins, Brady and his agent. Further discussions “focused on Brady becoming a limited partner [team owner] of the Dolphins” and possibly serve as a football executive. Those talks also left open the possibility of Brady playing for the Dolphins.

Investigators also found that the Dolphins had impermissible communications with Don Yee, the agent for former New Orleans Saints Sean Payton, in January. That contact was about “having Mr. Payton serve as Miami’s head coach.”

The Dolphins did not seek consent with the Saints for those discussions, which took place before Payton chose to retire. The team later reached out to the Saints, but was denied permission to contact Payton.

The investigators also addressed allegations that the Dolphins intentionally lost games in 2019 and a claim that Ross offered former coach Brian Flores $100,000 for each loss that season.

Investigators determined that the Dolphins “did not intentionally lose games” and that neither Ross, nor anyone else, instructed Flores to do so.

“The independent investigation cleared our organization on any issues related to tanking and all of Brian Flores other allegations,” Ross said in a statement. “As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and the issue is now put to rest.

“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.”

Ross, 82, bought 50% of the Dolphins in 2008. He is not allowed to be present at the Dolphins’ facility and cannot represent the Dolphins at any team or NFL event during his suspension. He also can’t attend any league meetings until 2023 and is removed from all league committees indefinitely.

Flores, who the Dolphins fired in January, also issued a statement Tuesday through his attorneys. The Pittsburgh Steelers assistant filed a lawsuit against the Dolphins and NFL teams in February, claiming racism within NFL hiring practices, in addition to his allegations of Ross’ incentives to intentionally lose games.

“I am thankful that the NFL’s investigator found my factual allegations against Stephen Ross are true,” Flores said.

“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.

“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 June, the NFL filed a motion to move Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit to arbitration. A federal judge has yet to rule on the arbitration issue.

The Dolphins, who are training at the Baptist Health Training Complex in Miami Gardens, Fla., will face Brady’s Buccaneers in their first pre-season game Aug. 13 in Tampa, Fla.