NFL suspends Stephen Ross for tampering with Sean Payton, Tom Brady

The most overlooked story of the 2022 offseason is overlooked no longer.

On Tuesday, the NFL suspended Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for the first six weeks of the 2022 season for tampering with former Saints coach Sean Payton and Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.

Mary Jo White, who was hired to investigate the allegation that Ross and the Dolphins tried to tank in 2019 in order to improve 2020 draft position, ended up investigating whether and to what extent Ross and the Dolphins tampered with Payton and Brady. She found that they did.

“The Dolphins had impermissible communications with quarterback Tom Brady in 2019-20, while he was under contract to the New England Patriots,” the league said in a statement. “Those communications began as early as August 2019 and continued throughout the 2019 season and postseason. These numerous and detailed discussions were conducted by Mr. Beal, who in turn kept Mr. Ross and other Dolphins executives informed of his discussions with Mr. Brady.

“The Dolphins again had impermissible communications with both Mr. Brady and his agent during and after the 2021 season, while he was under contract to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those discussions began no later than early December 2021 and focused on Mr. Brady becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive, although at times they also included the possibility of his playing for the Dolphins. Both Messrs. Ross and Beal were active participants in these discussions.

“In January 2022, the Dolphins had impermissible communications with Don Yee, the agent for New Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton, about having Mr. Payton serve as Miami’s head coach. Miami did not seek consent from New Orleans to have these discussions, which occurred before Coach Payton announced his decision to retire as head coach of the Saints. Following that announcement, Miami requested permission to speak to Coach Payton for the first time, which New Orleans declined to grant.”

“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” Commissioner Goodell said in a statement. “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.”

The NFL stripped Miami of the team’s first-run pick in 2023, and its third-round selection in 2024. Ross is barred from the team’s facility through October 17, and he cannot represent the club at any team or league event. He is barred from any league meetings before March 2023, and he has been fined $1.5 million.

Beal, the vice chairman and limited partner of the Dolphins, has been barred from all league meetings through the end of the year and fined $500,000.

We asked the league whether Ross and the Dolphins have any appeal rights in this content. League spokesman Brian McCarthy tells PFT that it is “effective immediately.”