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Why the NFL just stripped the Miami Dolphins of a 2023 first-round pick

The league determined that the team violated policies related to the ‘integrity of the game’

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Miami Dolphins cornerback Trill Williams catches the ball during training camp in August 2022.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Trill Williams (6) grabs a pass during drills at the NFL football team’s practice facility, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Marta Lavandier, Associated Press

The Miami Dolphins must forfeit a 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick after the league found the team guilty of violating the NFL’s anti-tampering rules. Owner Stephen Ross and vice chairman Bruce Beal are also on the hook for $2 million in fines.

The punishments, announced Tuesday, stem from Ross and Beal’s efforts to convince Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and retired New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton to join the Dolphins organization. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said investigators uncovered “unprecedented” violations of anti-tampering rules.

“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. Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations,” Goodell said in a statement, according to ESPN.

In a statement of his own, Ross said he disagreed with the investigators’ tampering-related findings but will accept the punishment in order to reduce distractions harmful to his team.

“I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing is that there be no distractions for our team as we begin an exciting and winning season. I will not allow anything to get in the way of that,” he said.

Did the Miami Dolphins tank under coach Brian Flores?

Investigators did clear Ross and the team of tanking accusations. Former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores had alleged that team ownership pressured him to intentionally lose games in order to improve their position in the 2020 NFL draft.

“The Dolphins did not intentionally lose games during the 2019 season. Nor did anyone at the club, including Mr. Ross, instruct Coach Flores to do so,” the summary of the investigators’ findings said.

Investigators did confirm that several people associated with the team heard Ross offer to pay $100,000 for every lost game, but they concluded that it wasn’t a serious offer. Flores brought up that comment from Ross when he criticized the team.

“Such a comment was not intended to be a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued in any respect by Mr. Ross or anyone else at the club,” the NFL’s summary of the findings said.

Flores said in a statement that he was “disappointed” that investigators had “minimized” the seriousness of Ross’ comments.

“I am disappointed to learn that the investigator minimized Mr. Ross’ offers and pressure to tank games especially when I wrote and submitted a letter at the time to Dolphins executives documenting my serious concerns,” he said.

Ross, meanwhile, celebrated the tanking-related findings.

“As I have said all along, these allegations were false, malicious and defamatory, and this issue is now put to rest,” he said.

How does the Dolphins’ punishment compare to football punishments in the past?

The NFL’s decision to strip the Dolphins of a 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick is among the biggest punishments the league has handed down against teams. Other notable football punishments include:

  • After the league determined that Saints’ coaches had paid team members to injure players on other teams, Payton was suspended for one year without pay and the Saints lost two second-round picks.
  • The New England Patriots lost a first-round pick after NFL officials concluded that the team had recorded New York Jets’ coaches in order to figure out their signals.
  • The Patriots also lost a first-round pick, as well as a fourth-round pick and $1 million, in the aftermath of the Deflategate scandal.