When Tom Brady signed a revised contract with the New England Patriots in August of 2019, he said it was a sign of his commitment to the team.
“The focus is this year and what we’ve got to do,” Brady said then. “That’s all that really matters in the end. That’s what this team expects of me, to put everything into it, like I always have.”
Around the same time that Brady signed his Patriots contract, the NFL found that Brady began having “numerous and detailed” conversations with Dolphins minority owner Bruce Beal Jr. about joining their franchise after the 2019 season.
The NFL included those surprising revelations in an investigative report released Tuesday into tanking and tampering allegations against the Dolphins and their owners, Stephen Ross and Beal. The allegations were made by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores in a lawsuit filed in February.
Tuesday’s report revealed that the Dolphins’ flirtation with Brady, and vice versa, was far more extensive than previously reported. The only other known contact between Brady and the Dolphins happened in the 2020 offseason, and again last winter.
The NFL cleared Ross of tanking allegations, but hammered him and his team for tampering with Brady, including the loss of a first-round draft pick and a six-game suspension for Ross.
Brady was certainly a willing participant in maintaining a dialogue with the Dolphins, one of the Patriots’ biggest rivals, throughout the 2019 season.
According to the NFL’s sixth-month investigation, Beal, a real estate developer and friend of Brady’s, began recruiting Brady “as early as August 2019 and continued throughout the 2019 season and post-season.” These “numerous and detailed” discussions went through Beal, who then relayed the content back to Ross.
The NFL’s findings shed new light on Brady’s 2019 season, his final year in Foxborough. Brady expressed profound frustration throughout the season, at one point calling himself “the most miserable 8-0 quarterback in the NFL.” The Patriots ultimately flopped over the second half of the season — particularly the offense — and lost at home to the Titans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Brady ultimately left the Patriots in March 2020 and chose the Buccaneers, with the Dolphins opting to take Tua Tagovailoa in the draft.
The new revelations should upset Patriots bosses Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick, and bring tarnish to Brady’s sterling reputation among Patriots fans.
Who knows how much those conversations with Beal distracted Brady and affected his focus, mood and preparation? Was Brady really all-in in 2019, or was he too busy thinking about his next move?
This was the same season that the Patriots tried to appease Brady by signing Antonio Brown and trading for Mohamed Sanu. He apparently thanked them by brazenly communicating with one of the Patriots’ top rivals.
Brady won’t be penalized for participating in the tampering, but Ross and the Dolphins received a sizable punishment:
- The loss of a first-round pick in 2023 and third-round pick in 2024;
- Ross, the team’s majority owner since 2009, was fined $1.5 million, suspended for the first six weeks of the regular season, can’t attend a league meeting until next March, and was stripped of all of his committee assignments.
- Beal was fined $500,000 and may not attend any league meetings for the rest of the year.
The loss of a first-round pick matches the Patriots’ penalty for SpyGate in 2007, but the addition of the third-round pick makes it a harsher punishment.
A league source said Ross was removed from several of the NFL’s most important committees, including finance, NFL Media, international, and legal gambling.
The NFL’s investigation confirmed the Globe’s reporting from April that the Dolphins were recruiting Brady this past winter to join the team’s ownership and front office, plus former Saints coach Sean Payton to be their head coach. Brady was still under contract with the Bucs at the time, while Payton, who stepped down from the Saints, still is contractually obligated to the team.
The NFL found that the Dolphins again tampered with Brady as early as December 2021 while Brady and the Bucs were fighting for playoff seeding. Both Ross and Beal had multiple conversations with Brady about “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,” per the NFL.
Ross has long coveted a star quarterback to guide the Dolphins, with Brady always at the top of his list. Their connection is the University of Michigan — Brady is the star alumnus, Ross a wealthy donor whose name is on the business school. Beal is the son of a prominent Boston real estate developer and has accompanied Brady on trips to the Kentucky Derby.
Ross’s three-year recruitment of Brady was finally coming to fruition this winter. Brady bought a $20 million home in Miami Beach, announced his retirement on Feb. 1, and was set to join the Dolphins’ front office this offseason, with the potential of unretiring and playing again. He was going to be a package deal with Payton, who shares Brady’s agent, Don Yee.
Instead, the plans were scrapped because of an unrelated and unforeseen event — Flores’s lawsuit against the Dolphins, filed the same day that Brady announced his retirement. Flores alleged racial discrimination, tanking, and tampering.
Despite the NFL’s specific findings of tampering, Ross said in a statement that “I strongly disagree with the conclusions and the punishment. However, I will accept the outcome because the most important thing is that there be no distractions for our team as we begin an exciting and winning season. I will not allow anything to get in the way of that.”
The sanctions would have been far tougher had the NFL found that Ross tried to get Flores to intentionally lose games in 2019 to help the team’s draft position. The NFL found that Ross may have offered Flores $100,000 to lose games toward the end of the season, but “such a comment was not intended or taken to be a serious offer, nor was the subject pursued in any respect by Mr. Ross or anyone else at the club.”
Flores said in a statement that he was “disappointed” with the NFL’s decision on the tanking allegations, and wants to see Ross suffer harsher consequences.
“While the investigator found that the Dolphins had engaged in impermissible tampering of ‘unprecedented scope and severity,’ Mr. Ross will avoid any meaningful consequence,” Flores said. “I am disappointed to learn that the investigator minimized Mr. Ross’s offers and pressure to tank games, especially when I wrote and submitted a letter at the time to Dolphins executives documenting my serious concerns regarding this subject.”
Ross is probably lucky that the NFL didn’t come down harder. Brady is definitely lucky that players aren’t held accountable for tampering.
And Patriots fans should wonder if Brady sabotaged the 2019 season by having his head in Miami instead of Foxborough.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.