ASHBURN — The NFL stripped the Miami Dolphins of two future draft picks Tuesday and suspended owner Stephen Ross until mid-October for violating the league’s anti-tampering policy — concluding a six-month-long investigation that now potentially clears the way for the league to wrap up its probe of Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder.
Mary Jo White, the investigator who oversaw the Dolphins probe, is also tasked with examining the allegations of sexual misconduct and financial improprieties against Snyder. The NFL first hired White to handle the Snyder probe in February, and then a month later, the league appointed her to investigate the Dolphins.
Still, the league took notable action against Ross on Tuesday — fining the billionaire $1.5 million and mandating that he stay away from his club through Oct. 17. The league also docked the Dolphins a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 third-round selection, while issuing a $500,000 fine to Dolphins vice chairman Bruce Beal.
The punishment came after the NFL found that the Dolphins had inappropriately communicated with quarterback Tom Brady and coach Sean Payton — both of whom were under contract with different teams at the time.
According to the league, the Dolphins had “impermissible communications” with Brady over the last three years when he was a member of the New England Patriots and later the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The earliest contact came in August 2019, continued in the 2019 postseason and sparked up again following the 2021 season. The most recent discussions, the league said, focused on Brady potentially joining the Dolphins as a part-owner and executive, though the sides also discussed the possibility of him being the team’s quarterback.
The Dolphins’ goal, it appears, was to possibly pair Brady with Payton (the two share an agent in Don Yee). The league found that the Dolphins talked with Lee in January 2022 about Payton serving as the team’s next coach despite not seeking permission from Payton’s then-employer, the New Orleans Saints. The conversation occurred before Payton decided to retire from coaching, though the league noted that Miami also asked for permission to speak with Payton after his announcement and New Orleans declined the request.
By formally suspending Ross, the NFL took a significantly different approach with one of its owners compared to how the league handled its first probe of Snyder and the Washington Commanders.
In July 2021, the NFL issued a $10 million fine to Washington for having a toxic workplace culture after more than 40 women said they experienced or witnessed sexual harassment while working for the team.
But Snyder was not formally suspended, with the league saying the embattled billionaire had agreed to voluntarily cede control of day-to-day operations for several months to his wife Tanya. Unlike the Dolphins, the Commanders were not stripped of any of its draft picks.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Tuesday that the league’s findings were “unprecedented” in their scope and severity.
“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,” Goodell said. “Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”
The NFL began looking into the Dolphins based on accusations from former Miami coach Brian Flores. In February, Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and the Dolphins that criticized the league’s hiring practices as racist and alleged that Ross offered him $100,000 per loss to incentivize him to purposely lose games during the 2019 season.
The league said it found no evidence the Dolphins intentionally sought to lose games that year. But Ross, the league said, “expressed his belief that the Dolphins‘ position in the upcoming 2020 draft should take priority over the team’s win-loss record” to Flores and several other executives.
Flores, according to reports, said in a statement that he was disappointed Ross will “avoid any meaningful consequence.” Ross said in a statement he would accept the outcome, but disagreed with the tampering conclusions.
Around the same time as Flores’ lawsuit, new accusations were made against Snyder. Former cheerleader and marketing manager Tiffani Johnston told members of Congress that the owner inappropriately caressed her thigh underneath a table and later tried to coax her into his limo at a work dinner.
Johnston’s allegations, which Snyder denies, caused the NFL to hire White, the former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The scope of the probe was then expanded after former Washington employee Jason Friedman alleged the Commanders committed financial improprieties such as engaging in a long-running scheme to purposely withhold security deposit refunds from season-ticket holders. The Commanders strongly denied the claims.
Lisa Banks, an attorney representing Johnston and Friedman, said in a June radio interview that White had interviewed Johnston multiple times for her probe. Another source with knowledge of the situation told The Washington Times that White had also spoken to Friedman.
The league has vowed to release a written report of White’s investigation into Snyder, something the NFL chose not to do for its first probe of Washington’s workplace.
Snyder, meanwhile, testified from Israel for nearly 11 hours last week in a deposition held by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, a congressional panel investigating the Commanders’ workplace misconduct.
Tanya Snyder, the team’s co-CEO and co-owner, was seen Tuesday at the team’s practice, marking her first public appearance of this year’s training camp.
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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