The conventional wisdom in sports is that tanking teams don’t actively have their coaches and players and lose, that front offices construct teams to lose and then sit back.
Brian Flores’ bombshell lawsuit against the NFL and several teams says that actually, tank jobs can be as blatant as fans imagine them to be.
The suit alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100,000 per loss in 2019, when the Dolphins were widely thought to be tanking for a franchise quarterback. According to the suit, Flores knew his firing was inevitable when he refused the request.
“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,” the suit says. “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.’”
Flores’ scrappy squad won five games and fell to the No. 5 pick in that draft, where they could have selected Justin Herbert but went with Tua Tagovailoa instead. After Flores’ firing this winter, leaks from the Dolphins tried to pin it on his poor relationship with Grier and Ross.
The 2019 Dolphins did manage to lose their first seven games that year before beating Adam Gase’s Jets, producing a memorable quote from Gase:
“It’s the NFL,” Gase said then. “You can’t be embarrassed by this sh–.”
Shamelessness is a theme in Flores’ suit. Paying a coach to lose should be a massive scandal, to say nothing of the racism. In the officious world of the NFL, though, a tampering allegation could be the one to trip up Dolphins management. Flores’ suit claims that Ross directed him to meet on a yacht with a “a prominent quarterback” in contravention of NFL free agency rules.
The quarterback was Tom Brady, according to the Palm Beach Post. Brady was about to be a free agent after the 2019 season and ultimately left New England for Tampa. The suit says that Flores “repeatedly refused to comply with these improper directives,” Ross’ demands to meet with Brady. Later that offseason, Ross engineered a chance run-in with Flores and Brady. Flores “refused the meeting and left the yacht immediately,” according to the suit, ultimately leading to Flores being “treated with disdain” and “ostracized” before his firing.
The Dolphins have denied the racism and tanking claims, while the NFL has dismissed Flores’ account entirely, calling it “without merit” in a statement.
As for steering the tank, Flores was wise to pass up the tiny amount of cash for a historic NFL disaster. The two coaches who have recently overseen winless NFL seasons, Rod Marinelli and Hue Jackson, have never sniffed another NFL head coaching job. (Jackson, who like Flores is Black, coached the Browns eight weeks in 2018 after going 0-16 in 2017.) In other words, Flores would have lit his dream on fire and destroyed his reputation for a mere $1.6 million.
Ross has been a lot of things: a billionaire, the New York real estate magnate behind Hudson Yards, an influential Trump fundraiser. Add “skinflint” to the list.