NFL suspends Miami Dolphins owner and strips team of draft picks after tampering and tanking probe

    The NFL suspended Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross six games into the 2022 season and fined him $1.5 million for violating policies related to integrity of the game.

    (CNN)The NFL stripped the Miami Dolphins of two draft picks and suspended and fined owner Stephen Ross after a probe into allegations of tampering and tanking found that his team had impermissible contact with star quarterback Tom Brady and the agent of former Saints coach Sean Payton.

    The investigation, led by former US Attorney and SEC Chair Mary Jo White and lawyers from the Debevoise law firm, determined that the Dolphins violated anti-tampering rules on three occasions, the NFL announced in a news release Tuesday. The investigation also found that the team did not intentionally lose games, known as tanking, but noted that Ross repeatedly suggested that the team should prioritize its draft position over winning games during the 2019 season, the release said.
    As punishment, the Dolphins will forfeit their first-round pick in the 2023 draft and a third-round pick in the 2024 draft. Ross is suspended through October 17, six games into the 2022 season, and fined $1.5 million, the release said.
      "With regards to tampering, I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment," Ross said in a statement posted on the Miami Dolphins Twitter account. "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 found that the Dolphins had "impermissible communications" with Brady in 2019-20 while he was a member of the New England Patriots and again during and after the 2021 season when he was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the NFL release. Those second discussions focused on Brady "becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive," and also included the possibility of playing for the Dolphins, the investigation found.
        The league found Dolphins Vice Chairman Bruce Beal spearheaded the contact with Brady and fined him $500,000. The Dolphins had no comment when asked about Beal's actions.
        Further, in January 2022, the Dolphins had "impermissible communications" with the agent of Payton, who at the time was the New Orleans Saints head coach and has since retired.
          "The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity," NFL 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."
          The investigation also examined whether the Dolphins intentionally lost games in the 2019 season to improve their draft position, known as tanking. The Dolphins ultimately finished the 2019 season with a 5-11 record and earned the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
          The NFL investigation found the team did not lose games intentionally nor did any member from the club, including Ross, instruct then Dolphins coach Brian Flores to lose games, according to the release. However, the investigation found that Ross repeatedly expressed his belief that the team's draft position should take priority over the win-loss record.
          In February, Flores told CNN that Ross explicitly told him he would give him $100,000 for each game Flores would lose. Ross denied the accusations at the time, calling the claims "baseless, unfair and disparaging."
          The investigation found that people had "differing recollections about the wording, timing, and context" of the claimed offer, according to the NFL news release.