NFL lets Stephen Ross off easy with Dolphins' punishment while letting Brian Flores down | Opinion
No, Stephen Ross, you should not take a victory lap.
You should be ashamed, count your lucky stars and realize that you got off light.
The Miami Dolphins owner had the gall to crow on Tuesday after receiving one of the harshest penalties yet levied against a team owner during the Roger Goodell era – fined $1.5 million, banned from team headquarters and league events for 2 ½ months while his team was docked a first-round pick next year and a third-rounder in 2024 – for tampering in efforts to lure Tom Brady and Sean Payton.
Ross, subjected to a six-month investigation headed by former U.S. attorney and SEC chair Mary Jo White, was apparently caught red-handed for ignoring NFL policy (and decorum) in trying to land two of the NFL’s biggest fish despite their contracts with other teams.
Brady was pursued twice, it was concluded, while under contract with the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the latter case during the 2021 season including the hook of partial team ownership. In 2019, Brady talked on multiple occasions during the season with Dolphins vice chairman Bruce Beal, who was fined $500,000 for his role. Payton, who like Brady is represented by agent Don Yee, is still under contract to the Saints despite stepping down as coach earlier this year. The Dolphins spoke to Yee about Payton without receiving permission from the Saints.
Goodell: “I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”
Just because Goodell doesn’t know it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Let’s just say that no one does sloppiness in this corner of NFL business space quite like Ross.
Yet somehow Ross escaped an even bigger haymaker – and hence, the crowing – as White concluded that the allegations from former Miami coach Brian Flores that Ross offered at pay $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season in order to improve draft position lacked merit.
“As I have said all along, the allegations were false, malicious and defamatory and the issue is now put to rest with regard to tanking,” Ross said in a statement released by the team.
He also declared that all of Flores’ allegations were essentially bogus while ignoring one key factor: Flores’ allegations are what sparked the investigation that landed him in scorching water.
If Ross is claiming this victory, the "Men in Black" should get involved because he’s clearly coming from a different planet.
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White didn’t declare that Flores’ contention that Ross offered money didn’t happen. Instead, the investigators, and by extension, Goodell, dismissed them in the wash of interpretation. It’s like White and the NFL “tanked” on Flores’ charge.
The NFL said the investigation established that there were varied recollections about the wording, timing and context of one statement by Ross, adding, “however phrased, such a comment was not intended to be a serious offer.”
Next time you pass through a TSA checkpoint at the airport, see if your comments about bombs, weapons and hijacking airplanes are taken lightly. In such situations, all threats are taken seriously.
In an NFL context, with the emphasis on integrity so firmly established (ask Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley, who is suspended at least a year for gambling on NFL games while on leave for a non-football issue) any threat, joke, comment, suggestion, hint about attempting to throw a game should be held to a higher standard.
Especially from a team owner who not only should know better but has the power to back up the offer if someone happens to bite and, well, is supposed to be held to a higher standard.
Then again, dismissing this component of the investigation reminds us: ownership has its privileges.
Unfortunately, there’s no written report on the investigation into Ross that will be made public. The NFL didn’t demand a written report when Beth Wilkinson first investigated Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder and his franchise’s toxic workplace culture. Shame on the NFL. Now, there’s no report coming in this case.
Surely, there are legal ramifications as the discrimination lawsuit brought forward by Flores and two former coaches is pending.
Yet it also meshes with the pattern of the NFL easing up on the discipline on team owners when compared to players. Sure, Ross is taking a hit (although some might consider it a break that he won’t be allowed to attend league meetings until March 2023), but without the full transparency and presumed depth of a written report, we might never know how much more discipline he might deserve.
The results of NFL investigations in recent years conducted by Ted Wells, probing the Patriots’ “Deflategate” issue and the Dolphins’ bullying scandal, were presented with thorough written reports that provided context and allowed for interested parties to review and discover the material.
Not so much here. The NFL wants you to take it at its word. And that, as the Ross case illustrates, can be the root of the issue.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.