If Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay coach Brian Flores a $100,000 bonus for every loss during the 2019 season — as Flores alleges in a new federal lawsuit — then the NFL should force Ross to sell the franchise and ban him from the league.
Such a claim calls into question the very competitive integrity of the game. Even other NFL team owners, who will generally always work to protect their own, should be outraged. Yes, tanking, in general, happens. It's one thing to not be active in free agency or push for every competitive advantage in a season with little hope.
But a stated “pay-to-lose” bonus structure in an effort to improve draft position is different.
At least we hoped.
Such a proposal could even be illegal, although the NFL shouldn’t care if it rises to the attention of federal prosecutors. This merits a full-scale independent investigation on football and business principles alone.
Instead, the league has already dismissed everything else Flores alleges in his lawsuit, deeming it “without merit” even though there hasn’t been enough time for even a cursory investigation.
This is a horrible look for the NFL. A near criminal look. It’s shocking, even by its circle-the-wagon, old boys club ownership culture.
If anything, the NFL should welcome an investigation in an effort to prove — as much as possible — the charges to be false. It’s a step in trying to limit the enormous damage to the league’s credibility this can cause in the court of public opinion. And if it finds merit in the story, then it should want to rid itself of someone such as Stephen Ross.
Flores brought the story to light in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York that claims racial discrimination in the league’s coaching hiring processes.
Flores, who is Black and the son of Honduran immigrants, was the Dolphins head coach from 2019-2021. He compiled a 24-25 record, including winning seasons his final two years. He was fired anyway. It was in 2019, his first year in Miami, that the lawsuit says his relationship with Ross began to sour.
It wasn’t that the Dolphins would finish just 5-11. It was that they didn’t do worse.
“[T]he 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,” the lawsuit states.
“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 suit continues.
In terms of pure football, this is the most serious allegation that can be made against a team owner, even bigger than a separate allegation that Ross, around that same time, tried to tamper with “a veteran quarterback” that Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post reported was Tom Brady.
Miami, which started the 2019 season 0-7, rallied late in the year and won three of its final five games. It ended up picking fifth overall in the draft.
Ross, 81, bought a majority interest in the team in 2008. It hasn’t won a single playoff game under his watch.
Is the allegation true? There is no way of knowing at this moment, but it does mention a third party — Grier — who would be able to make this more than a simple he said/he said. Did Flores contemporaneously tell anyone else about the tanking bonus? Are there any written documents? Did Grier mention it elsewhere? Did Ross speak to anyone else about this?
There are dozens of people to interview and endless data to comb through. Yet the NFL has already brushed it all off. Obviously, the league is going to defend itself. Flores went nuclear by filing a federal lawsuit and the NFL is on its heels.
But this goes beyond the league’s hiring and firing culture. It goes beyond civil payouts. It is a significant allegation that stands both aside and on its own. If true, it is an insult to players, fans, broadcast partners, sponsors, gambling interests and everyone else who expects a fair game.
The league has gone to the wall to investigate a supposed bounty ring in New Orleans and the inflation levels of footballs in New England. Outside law firms. “Independent” investigations. Days in federal court.
Yet on this … it’s just an instant denial and a blind backing of a franchise owner?
The NFL is riding high right now. Huge television ratings, young stars and exciting games.
Is it really going to risk all of that for Stephen Ross?