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NFL plans to investigate Brian Flores’s tanking, tampering allegations against Dolphins

Former coach Brian Flores, right, has accused Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, left, of attempting to get him to lose games on purpose in 2019 and violate NFL tampering rules. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
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The NFL plans to investigate the allegations of tanking and tampering made in a lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores against the team and owner Stephen Ross, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

It did not appear the league’s review of Flores’s accusations had begun, nor has a timetable been specified. It is “anticipated” that the league “will look into the other matters [arising from the lawsuit] at some point,” said the person with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the pending litigation.

Flores accused the NFL and teams of racial discrimination in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In the lawsuit, Flores alleged Ross offered to pay him $100,000 per defeat during the 2019 season in a bid to secure the No. 1 selection in the draft. Flores said he refused.

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“The purported basis for his termination was alleged poor collaboration,” Flores’s lawsuit says. “In reality, the writing had been on the wall since Mr. Flores’ first season as Head Coach of the Dolphins, when he refused his owner’s directive to ‘tank’ for the first pick in the draft. Indeed, during the 2019 season, Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, told Mr. Flores that he would pay him $100,000 for every loss, and the team’s General Manager, Chris Grier, told Mr. Flores that ‘Steve’ was ‘mad’ that Mr. Flores’ success in winning games that year was ‘compromising [the team’s] draft position.’ ”

The Dolphins went 5-11 that season and ended up using the No. 5 choice in the 2020 draft on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Fellow quarterback Joe Burrow went first to the Cincinnati Bengals. Burrow now has the Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Flores, who was fired by the Dolphins last month, reiterated his claim during a televised interview Wednesday morning.

“Look, this game’s done a lot for me,” Flores told CBS. “I grew up not far from here in the projects in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I didn’t grow up with a lot, and this game changed my life. So to attack the integrity of the game, that’s what I felt was happening in that instance and I wouldn’t stand for it.”

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Ross, in a statement released by the team Wednesday night, called Flores’s allegations “false, malicious and defamatory” and said he and the team “will cooperate fully” with the NFL’s investigation.

“With regards to the allegations being made by Brian Flores, I am a man of honor and integrity and cannot let them stand without responding,” Ross said. “I take great personal exception to these malicious attacks, and the truth must be known. His allegations are false, malicious and defamatory. We understand there are media reports stating that the NFL intends to investigate his claims, and we will cooperate fully. I welcome that investigation and I am eager to defend my personal integrity, and the integrity and values of the entire Miami Dolphins organization, from these baseless, unfair and disparaging claims.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked at an owners’ meeting in October 2019 about the possibility that the Dolphins were tanking. He dismissed the notion.

“The good news for us is we don’t see that,” Goodell said then. “I don’t think the league has ever been more competitive than it is today. You see that in teams going from last to first in dramatic fashion. I think that’s unique to the National Football League. … And so for us, the competitiveness of our game is obviously critical.”

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Flores also accused Ross and the Dolphins of tampering.

“After the end of the 2019 season, Mr. Ross began to pressure Mr. Flores to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of League tampering rules,” the lawsuit says. “Mr. Flores repeatedly refused to comply with these improper directives. Undeterred, in the winter of 2020, Mr. Ross invited Mr. Flores onto a yacht for lunch. Shortly after he arrived, Mr. Ross told Mr. Flores that the prominent quarterback was ‘conveniently’ arriving at the marina.

“Obviously, Mr. Ross had attempted to ‘set up’ a purportedly impromptu meeting between Mr. Flores and the prominent quarterback. Mr. Flores refused the meeting and left the yacht immediately. After the incident, Mr. Flores was treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.”

According to a report by the Palm Beach Post, the quarterback involved was Tom Brady.

Flores’s discrimination lawsuit names the NFL, the Dolphins, the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos. It also lists the other 29 NFL teams as potential defendants. The league and the teams that were specified denied the allegations.

Flores was one of three Black head coaches in the NFL this season. Two of them, Flores and the Houston Texans’ David Culley, were fired after the season.

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There was speculation earlier Wednesday that former Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson was making a similar claim about the Browns, based on a social media post he made. The Browns denied the allegation.

Jackson told ESPN in a televised interview Wednesday evening, however, that he wasn’t claiming to have been expressly told or paid to lose games. He said he was given a four-year plan by the Browns in which winning was not prioritized in the first few years.

“I understand it’s about winning,” Jackson said. “But I was put in a situation where I could not win. And I think that’s what everybody’s got to understand.”

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