Brian Flores, Stephen Ross, Tom Garfinkel, Miami Dolphins
Brian Flores, Stephen Ross, Tom Garfinkel, Miami Dolphins, Getty Images

The whip has cracked down hard on Stephen Ross and the Miami Dolphins for alleged tampering

The Miami Dolphins continue to find themselves in the news for less-than-stellar reasons.

This time, the New York Jets‘ division rivals are facing a steep punishment for tampering.

According to Adam Schefter, the NFL has docked the Dolphins of their 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick. They have also suspended owner Stephen Ross for the first month of the season, ending on October 17, 2022. Additionally, Ross received a $1.5 million fine.

The tampering accusations came from Brian Flores. Following his unceremonious firing at the end of the 2021 season, the ex-Dolphins head coach filed a lawsuit against the NFL, his former team, and a few other organizations, alleging racist hiring practices, among other things.

One of Flores’s key allegations was that in 2019-20, owner Stephen Ross tried to get Flores to speak to a “prominent quarterback” ahead of free agency. When Flores refused, Ross initiated a ride on a yacht where the same quarterback was. Many have reported that the quarterback in question was Tom Brady.

Furthermore, this past offseason, the Dolphins had conversations with Brady and Saints head coach Sean Payton prior to their respective retirements (from which Brady quickly returned). The discussions involved trading for Brady and Payton and making Brady a part-owner. This is against NFL rules, as both were under contract at the time.

However, the NFL investigation did not corroborate Flores’s allegation that Ross offered him $100,000 per game to tank in the 2019 season. While they did find that Ross had made comments that the team should prioritize their draft position over winning games, Ross never repeated the sentiments after Flores complained about it in writing.

The league did not find evidence that the Dolphins tanked. Indeed, Flores received credit for Miami’s 5-11 record with the lack of talent on their roster.

Ross responded to the punishment with a statement:

Flores also put out a statement regarding the punishment, which he sees as mostly inconsequential for Ross:

“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 … 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.”

This is the harshest punishment ever meted out against a team for tampering allegations.

In 2015, the Jets received a $100,000 fine for Woody Johnson’s comment about Darrelle Revis during the 2014 season while Revis was a member of the Patriots. Johnson stated, “I’d love for Darrelle to come back.” This led to the Patriots filing charges of tampering against the Jets. (Meanwhile, the Jets filed tampering charges of their own against the Patriots for comments by owner Robert Kraft, but the NFL chose not to impose discipline.)

In 2016, the NFL docked the Kansas City Chiefs their third- and sixth-round picks and fined them $350,000 for tampering with receiver Jeremy Maclin prior to the start of 2015 free agency. The NFL denied the Chiefs’ appeal of the decision, even after Kansas City claimed that inconsistent enforcement by the league created an unfair playing field for teams pursuing soon-to-be free agents.

Having already traded Tyreek Hill for first-, second-, and fourth-round picks in 2022 and fourth- and sixth-rounders in 2023, Miami was already a little short on draft capital. For a team that is looking to contend now, the loss of a first-rounder next year and a third-rounder the following year could hinder the Dolphins’ ability to plug key roster holes.

Furthermore, after signing Hill to a four-year, $120 million extension and inking left tackle Terron Armstead to a five-year, $75 million pact, Miami’s cap situation is tight over the next few seasons. Per, the Dolphins have $230 million in cap liabilities for 2023, which is above the current NFL salary cap threshold and may be above next year’s, even with a large projected increase in 2023.

Hill and Armstead alone have a combined cap hit of over $51 million for next season. Losing access to cheaper assets via the draft squeezes the team’s cap even tighter.

The Dolphins do have some extra incoming picks that can help soften the blow. They own the 49ers’ 2023 first-round pick through the Trey Lance trade and the Patriots’ 2023 third-round pick through the DeVante Parker trade.

Still, the losses of two fairly high draft selections will hurt. With multiple first-round picks in 2023, the Dolphins previously had plenty of ammo to reload their pool of young talent after making only four picks in the 2022 draft (including none in the top 100). The Dolphins also had enough assets to potentially make a trade-up for a new franchise quarterback in case Tua Tagovailoa does not pan out. Now, they might not be able to pull that off if things get to that point.

The NFL clearly wanted to send a message following the multi-layered lawsuit filed by Brian Flores. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their behavior in firing a successful head coach has resulted in the exposure of other illegal behaviors that will damage the team’s future.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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