NFL Investigation Lets Miami Dolphins, Stephen Ross, Tom Brady, Sean Payton Get Off Light

Stephen Ross was unhappy on Tuesday when he found out the NFL is suspending him through October 17, fining him $1.5 million, and taking a couple of draft picks from his team for his role in a tampering scheme that spanned three years and tried to lure both Tom Brady and Sean Payton to the Miami Dolphins.

And this shows how out of touch the Dolphins’ owner can be.

Because the NFL says the billionaire real estate developer was the apparent architect of a plot to not only circumvent NFL tampering rules but ignore them altogether as a pattern of behavior from August 2019 until January of 2022.

Ross was unhappy although he got a pass from the NFL investigation for tanking the 2019 season when, in fact, he approved the scheme to lose games on purpose that season in order to improve the club’s draft position in 2020.

Ross should be thrilled rather than unhappy.

How should be happy and grateful he wasn’t stripped of his club ownership role by the requisite two-thirds vote of fellow owners who recognize Ross can be a strange bird at times, but now also see he has no regard for some of the league’s cornerstone rules.

So Ross may not know it, but he got off relatively light. And he’s not alone.

The entire Dolphins organization and its leadership got off light.

And, oh yes, Brady and Payton got off completely untouched for their role in what commissioner Roger Goodell called “violations of unprecedented scope and severity.”

Dolphins fans, Brady fans, Payton fans are going to disagree now. I get that.

Dolphins fans, since 2009 subjected to the most mistake-prone ownership in club history, are merely upset they must forfeit one of the two first-round picks the club had collected for 2023 — and that could affect draft strategy next April.

Brady fans, particularly those in New England where Brady is a king, may be upset their hero is being dragged in this mess through no fault of his own — which is a complete crock because he was an actively involved.

And Payton fans are going to stick to the coach’s stated narrative he didn’t have any intention of being anywhere but with the New Orleans Saints if he continued coaching this season — again, not entirely accurate.

To all that spin I offer facts …

The Dolphins, according to the NFL’s investigation “did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season nor did anyone at the club, including Ross, instruct [then coach] Brian Flores to do so.”

But that same investigation says Ross told multiple people “the team’s upcoming 2020 draft should take priority over the team’s win-loss record” in 2019.

So winning wasn’t everything for Ross in ’19 and he shared this belief with Flores, club president Tom Garfinkel, general manager Chris Grier and senior vice president Brandon Shore.

Flores was the only one of the group to openly disagree with Ross, according to sources close to the investigation.

Flores, by the way, alleged in his discrimination suit that Ross offered to pay him $100,000 to lose games. The investigation excuses Ross from saying it because the comment “was not intended or taken to be a serious offer.”

Ross was merely joking about paying for losing.

Yeah, funny.

Although Ross said in a statement the Dolphins were cleared of all the allegations made by Flores in his suit, that overlooks it was Flores who painted the picture of Ross instructing him to tamper with Brady.

And, sure enough, the NFL investigation finds the Dolphins “had impermissible communications with [Brady] in 2019-20 while he was under contract to the New England Patriots.”

“While we vehemently disagree with the conclusions regarding the tanking allegations, we note that the investigator confirmed the accuracy of the factual allegations made by Mr. Flores,” reads a statement from Douglas Wigdor and John Elefterakis, who represent Flores in the suit.

The communications with Brady began as early as August 2019 — around the time Brady put his house in New England on the market. It was also around the time the Patriots failed to give Brady a contract that would extend beyond that 2019 season.

So Brady was talking to the Dolphins, a division opponent, as part of what he knew to be an exit strategy from the Patriots.

The NFL investigation says these discussions with Brady were conducted by Dolphins vice chairman Bruce Beal, “who,” the report reads, “in turn kept Mr. Ross and other Dolphins executives informed of his discussions with Mr. Brady.”

All these people, including Brady and Dolphins executives such as Grier and Garfinkel were aware the NFL’s tampering policy was being broken time and time again.

And no one convinced anyone to stop because the discussions continued after the 2021 season when Brady was still under contract to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Around that time, the Dolphins undertook a similar tact with Payton while he was under contract in New Orleans.

(You know, if you’re going tamper so hard, at least close the darn deal like Joe Robbie did with Don Shula).

The Dolphins failed to land Brady but believed they landed Payton, who was actively calling potential assistants to hire for his Dolphins staff, as OutKick first reported in March.

Brady and Payton, it should be noted, share the same agent. And they were clearly active participants in the tampering.

So where’s their suspension? Or fine?

These two were not surprised targets of tampering. They were willing and active participants but they get off completely untouched.

When Flores filed his suit that blew up everyone’s plans the Dolphins backed away from both Brady and Payton and now goes into the 2022 season with Mike McDaniel as the head coach and Tua Tagovailoa as the quarterback.

“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,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

Those are strong words. But the punishment doesn’t match the misdeeds. And, frankly, some people around the NFL are looking at this situation and thinking the Dolphins might even benefit from the Ross suspension.

“They go 6-0 to start the season now with him gone and not causing issues,” a former Dolphins high-ranking employee texted OutKick.

Yes, the Dolphins got off light.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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  1. Mando, this is a stiffer fine than the Patriots got with “video-gate.” That offense actually affected the outcome of games, including the SB. IMO, a FAR greater offense. Gambling could have been involved as well. As usual, the privileged escape. Grier escaped as well. The reason why is clear.

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