A busy week of NFL discipline continued Tuesday when the league stripped the Miami Dolphins of their 2023 first-round pick, among other things, because Commissioner Roger Goodell called the manipulation of violations “unprecedentedly extensive and serious.”
The announcement came a day after an independent disciplinary officer suspended Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games after he was accused of sexual misconduct during massage sessions. It’s been six months after former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the league, accusing the New York Giants and Denver Broncos of conducting sham interviews to meet Rooney Rule requirements, and accused the Dolphins of inciting losses and pressuring Tom Brady to improperly recruit.
Tuesday’s verdict addressed the last two items on that list. The issues of sham interviews and other potentially illegal labor practices have yet to be resolved in court.
In the end, an independent investigation led by former US Attorney Mary Jo White uncovered one of the largest cases of tampering in league history. Over the course of two years, the Dolphins attempted to recruit Brady and coach Sean Payton to the franchise while both were signed to other teams. The Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross said in a statement he “did not agree at all with the conclusions and the punishment,” but the league said there would be no appeal.
Here’s a closer look at what we know, including the semantics involved in the public statements about manipulation, and what may be next.
What did the dolphins do?
According to the investigation, the Dolphins spent two years trying to recruit Brady — first from the New England Patriots and later from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — into the franchise. Much of the discussion centered on becoming a limited partner, a team leader, and even his quarterback. According to the NFL’s anti-tampering policy, “Neither a club nor a person employed by or otherwise associated with a club may tamper with a player who is contracted with another club or whose exclusive bargaining rights are held by another club. “
Additionally, the investigation revealed that the Dolphins spoke to Payton’s agents in January 2022, prior to Payton’s resignation as Saints coach. Even after Payton announced his departure on Jan. 25, the Dolphins would have needed the Saints’ permission to speak to him. According to the policy: “A contracted employee (including a head coach, general manager or other ‘senior’ employee) who voluntarily resigns or retires prior to the expiration of his contract is prohibited from seeking employment with any other NFL club to discuss or accept without the consent of his previous club.”
The Dolphins asked the Saints for permission to speak with Payton after he resigned, the inquest found, but the Saints refused.
What are the penalties?
The Dolphins forfeited one of their two first-round picks in 2023, as well as a third-round pick in 2024. Ross was fined $1.5 million and suspended until October 17, 2022. The discipline amounts to a six-game suspension, according to an NFL source. The Dolphins play their week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings on October 16.
Ross was also removed from all of his current committee duties, which included the finance, media, international and legalized sports gambling committees.
Dolphins Limited Partner Bruce Beal, who conducted many of the discussions with Brady and his agent, has been fined $500,000 and banned from attending league meetings until the end of the 2022 season.
Did Flores claim that?
Along with allegations of sham interviews and inducements to lose by offering cash rewards, Flores said the Dolphins have repeatedly attempted to include him in Brady’s recruiting program. He refused.
Wait, so the Dolphins were trying to hire Payton and Brady for 2022?
That’s what the investigation revealed. Ultimately, the Dolphins hired San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel to replace Flores and stayed with Tua Tagovailoa as quarterback.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, NFL owners should have voted on whether Brady would play dual roles for the Dolphins as player, executive director and/or limited partner.
What else did the investigation reveal?
The NFL said it was investigating Flores’ allegations that Ross offered him $100,000 to lose games in 2019, his first season as coach of the Dolphins. It emerged that Ross had made a number of comments to several people in the organization, including Flores, that the 2020 draft should take precedence over the 2019 win. Flores took these comments as a suggestion from his boss to lose, but the investigation found the team never lost a game on purpose.
As for the $100,000 offer, the investigation revealed “varying recollections of the wording, timing and context.” Regardless, the NFL said, “[S]Such comment was not intended as a serious offer, nor was the issue followed up in any way by Mr Ross or anyone else at the club.”
Ross said the investigation “acquitted our organization on all issues related to refueling.” Is that true?
It may be true that the Dolphins didn’t tank, but that’s not the same as saying Ross didn’t want to, especially given the issue of prioritizing the draft position over winning. The investigation also hasn’t fully resolved whether Ross offered Flores a financial incentive to lose, but noted the “differing memories” about it. And even if it wasn’t a serious offer, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t accepted.
In his own statement, Flores said: “I am disappointed to learn that the investigator minimized offers and pressure from Mr. Ross about tank games, particularly as I wrote and submitted a letter to Dolphins executives at the time stating my serious concerns have been documented.”
Why would it have been a big deal if the dolphins were found to be losing on purpose?
At its core, the product of the NFL is unscripted drama. In his statement, Goodell said that “every club is expected to make a good faith effort to win every game”. Anything else would undermine “the integrity of the game and the public’s trust in professional football”.
Jeff Darlington is reacting to news that the Dolphins will lose a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick after violating the NFL’s anti-tampering policy.
Are these penalties unprecedented?
It’s not the first time that a team has given up a first-round pick for disciplinary reasons. The Patriots have done it twice, in 2008 after “Spygate” and in 2016 for “Deflategate.” In those cases, like in 2023, the first round will have 31 picks instead of 32.
The Saints lost two second-round picks to “Bountygate” in 2013.
Owners have also been docked more than $1.5 million, most recently Washington Commanders’ Dan Snyder ($10 million). There have also been suspended owners. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, for example, was suspended for six games in 2014 after pleading guilty to drunk driving.
Have many manipulations been detected in recent years?
Some, but nothing of this magnitude.
The Kansas City Chiefs lost a third-round pick in 2016 and a sixth-round pick in 2017 for speaking to free-agent receiver Jeremy Maclin before it was allowed to. The Detroit Lions lost a sixth-round pick in 2012 and were forced to trade fifth-round picks with Kansas City in 2011 for improper contact with Chiefs safety Jarrad Page.
Can Ross still manage the team during his suspension?
The league’s announcement said he cannot be present at the team’s facility, nor can he represent the team or the league at any NFL event or league meetings. This language is almost identical to the words used to announce Irsay’s suspension in 2014.
Why wasn’t Brady or Payton disciplined?
The anti-tampering policy addresses clubs that interfere with another club’s contract, not the objectives of the attempted interference.
It defines manipulation as “any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club, or any attempt by a club to improperly induce a person to seek employment with that club or the NFL.”
In the case of Brady or any other player, discipline would be governed by the Personal Conduct Policy, which makes no mention of manipulation.
How does losing a first- and third-round pick affect the Dolphins’ ability to build their team?
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said retaining both first-round picks in 2023, as well as their second-round and two third-round players, is a priority for the Dolphins. Why? Most likely to hedge their bet on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins had five premium picks that they could use to bolster their roster if Tagovailoa was developing, or move up significantly in the first round and tap into a strong quarterback class if he wasn’t.
They lost a major asset on their 2023 first-round pick, but they still have the 2023 San Francisco 49ers first-round pick, and they could package them with their own 2024 first-round pick if needed. Losing the 2024 third-round pick isn’t ideal, but it shouldn’t have a huge impact on their plans.
Flores’ lawsuit, which alleges violations of federal and state civil and human rights laws designed to ensure equality, remains in court. The NFL filed in June to move the lawsuit to its internal arbitration, but a verdict isn’t expected until late summer at the earliest.
Contributor: ESPN Dolphins reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34334811/unprecedented-violations-lost-draft-picks-know-nfl-discipline-miami-dolphins ‘Unprecedented’ violations and lost draft picks