Why wasn't Brady punished for role in Dolphins tampering scandal?

Tom Brady

The NFL released bombshell evidence Tuesday that the Miami Dolphins had "impermissible communications" with quarterback Tom Brady on multiple occasions, both in August 2019 while he was a member of the New England Patriots and December 2021 when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The league dropped the hammer on the Dolphins for tampering with Brady and former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, docking Miami its 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick while suspending and fining owner Stephen Ross $1.5 million.

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But the league also confirmed Tuesday that Brady won't face any discipline, with NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy telling USA TODAY's Henry McKenna that the "focus" of the investigation "was on ownership."

So, why does Brady get off scot-free for secretly communicating with the Patriots' division rival about leaving New England during the middle of the 2019 preseason?

The straightforward answer is that NFL teams can be punished for tampering, but players can't -- regardless of who initiated the conversation.

Here's the relevant text from the NFL's anti-tampering policy:


"If a club is contacted by a player (or his representative) who is under contract to or whose negotiating rights are held by another club, and such player has not been given permission to negotiate with other clubs, or such player is not in a permissible negotiating period under the terms of an operative collective bargaining agreement, then the contacted club is prohibited from (i) negotiating with the player or his agent; (ii) discussing even in general terms the player's possible employment with the contacted club; or (iii) discussing the player's contract or his potential or ongoing contract negotiations with his current club."

In layperson's terms, if the Dolphins reached out to Brady first, then that's clear tampering. But if Brady reached out to the Dolphins first and the Dolphins failed to report that communication to the NFL, that's also tampering on behalf of Miami.

The evidence doesn't state who initiated talks between Brady and Dolphins minority owner Bruce Beal. Considering the two are good friends, the topic of Brady coming to the Dolphins may have come up multiple times in both casual and more serious conversations.

Regardless of who reached out first, however, Brady was in no danger of facing discipline here -- which may have emboldened him to speak with Beal about heading south to Miami after he had just signed a new contract with the Patriots.