NFL Announces Investigation Findings



In February, shortly after former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL) and certain teams, including the Miami Dolphins, the NFL began investigating the Miami Dolphins over the claims made in Flores’s complaint. Today, the NFL announced its findings from the investigation, including a suspension for owner Stephen Ross.


On January 10, 2022, after posting a winning record in two of his three seasons with the Dolphins, the Dolphins fired head coach Brian Flores citing a lack of collaboration. Specifically, Ross stated, “I don’t think we were really working well as an organization that it would take to really win consistently at the NFL level.”


On February 1, 2022, Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and the Miami Dolphins. Since then, the plaintiffs have amended the complaint to add multiple coaches, including former Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks, and other teams.


In the complaint, Flores alleged that the Dolphins racially discriminated against him by depicting Flores as an “angry black man” due to Flores’s refusal to follow the owner’s directive, which was to lose games to acquire higher draft picks. The allegations include owner Stephen Ross telling Flores that “he would pay him $100,000 for every loss.”


Other allegations include Flores meeting with “a prominent quarterback” on a yacht for lunch with Ross, a violation of league tampering rules. After meeting with the quarterback and Ross, Ross painted Flores as difficult.


In response to the allegations, the NFL launched an investigation led by former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White. A veteran of football investigations, White also led investigations into the Washington Commanders and Dan Snyder.


White’s investigation was limited to (1) whether the Dolphins violated NFL tampering rules and (2) whether the Dolphins intentionally lost games to improve the team’s draft position.


As to tampering, White found that beginning in 2019, the Dolphins had “impermissible communications” with Tom Brady while Brady was under contract with the New England Patriots. Further, the Dolphins had impermissible contact with Brady after the 2021 season while Brady was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lastly, in January 2022, the Dolphins had impermissible contact with New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. “The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” said Commissioner Roger Goodell.


As to intentionally losing, White found that the Dolphins did not intentionally lose games. On the other hand, “Mr. Ross expressed his belief that the Dolphins’ position in the upcoming 2020 draft should take priority over the team’s win-loss record.” However, any comments from Ross about paying Flores $100,000 to lose were not to be taken seriously.


As a result of the findings, among other punishments, the Dolphins will forfeit a first-round selection in the 2023 draft (the Dolphins own two first-round picks) and a third-round selection in the 2024 draft. Additionally, Ross is suspended through October 17, 2022, and fined $1.5 million.


What Does This Mean?


At the very least, the findings support some of the allegations in the Flores lawsuit, which is still ongoing. Currently, the lawsuit is waiting on a ruling on the NFL’s motion to compel arbitration, which would prevent the public from hearing the lawsuit. In May, Nevada Judge Nancy L. Allf denied a similar motion in the NFL’s case against Jon Gruden. Thus, reading between the lines, the NFL could be releasing White’s findings because it anticipates a denial in Flores’s suit, which would keep the lawsuit in open court.


Now, Flores has support for his allegations, and if the lawsuit remains in court, more could be on the way.


Landis Barber is an attorney at Safran Law Offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or via his blog offthecourtdocket.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Landisbarber