Direction to lose games in 2019 from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross never made it onto the field, assistant says

Direction to lose games in 2019 from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross never made it onto the field, assistant says

MIAMI — While an NFL-backed investigation found that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced that he believed the team’s draft position should take precedence over winning games in 2019, those beliefs didn’t pan out on the soccer field.

Dolphins running backs coach Eric Studesville, who has held the title since 2018, said the team’s direction during the 2019 season was not called into question to his knowledge.

“Top down, [the goal was] Winning football games and preparing and being ready — it’s always been like that,” Studesville said Wednesday. “So I think this game is right. We do, I owe it to the game, every time we get a chance to compete we do our best. Nothing was ever expressed other than that 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 alleges that shortly after he was hired in 2019, Ross attempted to incite him to “tank” or intentionally lose games, with Ross allegedly offering Flores $100,000 for each loss that season. Flores says that as the team won games towards the end of the season, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier told him Ross was “pissed” that success on the field was “compromising”. [the team’s] draft position.”

The NFL followed up on these allegations as part of its aforementioned investigation, but found no evidence that the team had intentionally lost games in the 2019 season. However, the investigation found that Ross made comments to team president and CEO Tom Garfinkel, general manager Chris Grier, senior vice president Brandon Shore and Flores that the team’s draft position should take precedence over winning games. When Flores wrote to express his concerns, 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’ offer of $100,000 for each loss, of which there were “varying recollections as to the wording, timing and context … was not intended or considered to be a serious offer, nor was the subject in any.” Respect was pursued by Mr Ross or anyone else at the club.”

Studesville insisted the message to Flores not leak into the locker room.

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

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

Miami’s contact with Yee regarding Payton occurred prior to Payton’s retirement in January. The Dolphins eventually hired former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel.

John Embree, Dolphins tight ends coach and assistant head coach, said the team did not feel the need to discuss the matter internally because the leaks occurred prior to their arrival in South Florida.

“Nothing to say – control what you can control,” he said. “We haven’t been here, some players have been here and some players haven’t, but at the end of the day it doesn’t change what we do, how we work and what we do if we get an opponent on Sunday.

“I was probably my wife’s second choice,” he joked. “First choice, second choice, third choice – it doesn’t matter. It’s about being present where your feet are and taking the opportunity you are in and capitalizing on this current situation.”

Beal and Ross contacted Brady about becoming a limited partner or football manager with the Dolphins, although the possibility of playing for the team was also discussed. Those talks didn’t happen until the end of the 2021 season and as early as the 2019 season when Brady was signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots, respectively.

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

“I came in 2020, so whatever happened in 2019, I can’t even talk about it,” he said 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 supporting the team. 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 attending league meetings for the entire 2022 season. The Dolphins were also stripped of their first-round selection in 2023 and third-round selection in 2024. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called the extent of Ross’ involvement and the scope and severity of the Dolphins’ manipulations “unprecedented.”

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