The NFL released its findings Tuesday regarding its investigation of the Miami Dolphins, and it was startling in just about every aspect.
The biggest takeaway for the Dolphins is the penalties imposed, most significantly the loss of their 2023 first-round pick and their 2024 third-round selections, for being found guilty of tampering with both Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
Owner Stephen Ross was fined $1.5 million and suspended through Oct. 17, 2022. Until that time, Ross may not be present at the Dolphins' facility and may not represent the club at any team or NFL event. Ross also may not attend any league meeting prior to the Annual Meeting in 2023, and was removed from all NFL committees indefinitely.
Bruce Beal, the Dolphins vice chairman/limited partner, may not attend any league meeting for the remainder of the 2022 season and was fined $500,000.
The six-month investigation ruled that Ross did not ask then-coach Brian Flores to lose games on purposes during the 2019 season, concluding that any comments Ross made about paying Flores a sum of $100,000 for each loss to try to procure a better draft position in 2020 were merely jokes.
"There are differing recollections about the wording, timing, and context.," the report said. "However phrased, such a comment 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."
The Dolphins ended up with a 5-11 record in that 2019 season, going 5-4 down the stretch after an 0-7 start. They ended up with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft and selected Tua Tagovailoa out of Alabama.
The Dolphins released a statement on social media from Ross: "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.
"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."
The investigation was led by former U.S. Attorney and SEC Chair Mary Jo White and a team of lawyers from the Debevoise law firm.
The investigation revealed the Dolphins "had impermissible communications" with Brady in 2019-20, while he was under contract to the New England Patriots. Those communications began as early as August 2019 and continued throughout the 2019 season and postseason. Per the report, the Dolphins again had
"impermissible communications" with both Brady and his agent during and after the 2021 season while he was under contract with the Buccaneers. Those discussions began no later than early December 2021 and "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 of his playing for the Dolphins."
The report says Ross and Beal were active participants in these discussions.
As for Payton, the report says the Dolphins reached out to Don Yee — both Payton's and Brady's agent — in January 2022 before he announced his retirement. After Payton made his announcement, the Dolphins asked the Saints for permission to speak with Payton but were turned down.
"The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity," NFL Commissioner Goodell said. "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."