Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ 2019 game-loss directive never made it to the field, assistant says

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ 2019 game-loss directive never made it to the field, assistant says

MIAMI — Although an NFL-backed investigation found Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made it clear he believed the team’s draft position should take precedence over games won in 2019, those beliefs didn’t carry over to the football playground.

Dolphins running backs coach Eric Studesville, who has held that title since 2018, said the team’s directive heading into the 2019 season is not in question as far as he knows.

“From top to bottom, [the goal was] winning football games and getting ready and going — that’s how it’s always been,” Studesville said Wednesday. “So I think this game is right. That’s what we do, that’s what I owe the game to, every time we get a chance to compete, we give it our all. There was never anything other than what was expressed to us or to me.”

In February, former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL and the Dolphins, alleging racism in the league’s hiring practices. In the lawsuit, Flores claims that Ross tried to incentivize him to “tank,” or lose games on purpose, shortly after he was hired in 2019, with Ross allegedly offering Flores $100,000 for each loss in this season. Flores says that while the team was winning games late in the season, Dolphins general manager Chris Greer told him that Ross was “angry” that success on the field was “compromising [the team’s] draft position.”

The NFL looked into those allegations as part of its aforementioned investigation, but found no evidence that the team intentionally forfeited games during the 2019 season. However, the investigation found that Ross made comments to team president and CEO Tom Garfinkel, general manager Chris Greer, senior vice president Brandon Shore and Flores that the team’s draft position should take priority over winning games. When Flores expressed his concerns in writing, he was assured that everyone wanted him to build a “winning culture in Miami,” and Ross never made those comments to Flores again.

The investigation also found that Ross’s offer of $100,000 for each loss, of which there are “differing recollections as to wording, timing and context … was not intended or taken as a serious offer, nor was the subject matter pursued in any is respect from Mr Ross or anyone else at the club.”

Studesville insisted the message to Flores didn’t trickle down to the locker room.

“We’re just not wired that way,” he said. “None of this was ever shared.”

In addition to the alleged tanking, the NFL investigated and found the Dolphins guilty of tampering with quarterback Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton; Ross and vice chairman/limited partner Bruce Beal made “impermissible contact” with both Brady and agent Don Yee in an attempt to get both to join the franchise.

Miami’s contact with Yee regarding Payton occurred before Payton’s retirement in January. The Dolphins ended up hiring former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel.

Dolphins coach and associate head coach John Embry said the team didn’t feel the need to discuss the matter internally because the indiscretion occurred before they arrived in South Florida.

“It goes without saying – control what you can control,” he said. “We weren’t here, some players were here and some weren’t, but at the end of the day it doesn’t change what we do in terms of how we work and what we do when we get an opponent on Sunday.

“Maybe I was my wife’s second choice,” he joked. “Being first choice, second choice, third choice – it doesn’t matter. It’s about being present where your feet are and taking advantage of the opportunity you’re in and the situation you’re in.”

Beal and Ross reached out to Brady about becoming a limited partner or football executive of the Dolphins, although the possibility of playing for the team was also discussed. Those conversations took place as recently as the end of the 2021 season and as far back as the 2019 season, when Brady was under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots, respectively.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, entering his third NFL season, said he and his teammates learned of the NFL’s report after Tuesday’s practice but didn’t think his position with the team was any less secure.

“I came in 2020, so whatever happens in 2019, I can’t even talk about it,” he said on Wednesday. “So I was here in 2020 and I’m still here and I’m blessed to be here. If it has to do with team support. I think the team is all in with me and all the guys we have now.”

The NFL suspended Ross for six games and fined him $1.5 million, while Beal was fined $500,000 and banned from league meetings for the entire 2022 season. The Dolphins were also stripped of their first-round pick in 2023 and in the third round in 2024. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called the level of Ross’ involvement, and the scope and severity of the Dolphins’ involvement, “unprecedented.”

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