Everybody except for Dan Snyder wants Dan Snyder out as owner of the Washington Commanders. Even Al Michaels said so, on air, while broadcasting an NFL game! But it hasn’t happened yet, for two reasons: Most of our opinions on Dan Snyder don’t functionally matter, since we do not own NFL teams or have the ear of anybody who does. And most of the people who could effect change on this matter have been quiet, at least on the record.
That changed Tuesday at the NFL’s annual fall meeting at a swanky hotel in downtown Manhattan, when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said there is “merit to remove [Snyder] as owner” of the Washington NFL team. Irsay said that he’ll need to see the results of the NFL’s investigation into Snyder and his team’s workplace culture before making a final decision, but said that Snyder’s behavior is “gravely concerning.” Most importantly, Irsay said that he’s not alone: He said “potentially there will be” enough votes—they’ll need at least 24—to kick Snyder out.
“I just think that once owners talk amongst each other, they’ll arrive [at] the right decision,” Irsay said. “My belief is that, unfortunately, I believe that that’s the road we probably need to go down. We just need to finish the investigation.”
The NFL did not vote on Snyder’s fate Tuesday, and seems unlikely to before the conclusion of former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White’s investigation into Snyder. The league’s owners did have a privileged meeting after Irsay’s 14-minute impromptu press conference, in which Roger Goodell said that he told ownership “speculation without facts is not a positive thing to do.”
The fall meetings are usually pretty quiet—NFL executives and team owners show up at a fancy hotel, listen to some presentations about the state of the league while eating fancy snacks, and then leave. They’re not obligated to speak to the press and generally don’t. When I asked some NFL reporters mingling in the hotel lobby whether they could ever remember anything interesting happening, they mostly drew blanks.
But Irsay came down the hotel’s extremely fancy stairs and voluntarily walked into a scrum. According to Irsay, Snyder’s status wasn’t even a topic of conversation at Tuesday’s meetings—he simply said that in the future, “We’re gonna get into more and more discussion on that.” But Irsay made it the story of the day. (The rest of the league’s owners didn’t seem to appreciate this—they no-commented their way to the hotel doors. “This is a media issue more than it is an ownership issue,” Jerry Jones said.)
Irsay brought up the potential of an eventual vote—but it doesn’t have to go this way. There are a few possible methods that could free the Washington franchise from its unpopular, unsuccessful owner. The first would be for Snyder to sell the team voluntarily—a great option for Snyder, as it would give him literally billions of dollars and end his tenure somewhat amicably. Snyder, of course, seems rabidly opposed to this option. Above everything else, he is stubborn, and seems committed to fighting his way out of this situation. In a recent ESPN story, an anonymous source said that owning an NFL team is “[Snyder’s] identity.” We can reasonably infer this means that Snyder will do anything to preserve his team.
Indeed, the Commanders issued a statement shortly after Irsay’s comments, saying “there is no reason for the Snyders to consider selling the franchise. And they won’t.” Snyder, who was not present at the meeting, wrote his fellow owners a letter in which he criticized ESPN’s reporting.
That ESPN story offered another solution to the NFL’s Snyder problem: Freezing Snyder out financially. He deeply wants to build a new stadium, but isn’t as wealthy as some of the league’s other owners. (In April, Forbes had Snyder, with an estimated net worth of $4 billion, as tied for 11th among his peers; he’s since been passed by the Broncos’ new owner, Rob Walton.) The league’s owners can deny Snyder debt waivers he’d need to finance his new stadium, effectively killing his stadium dream and making his ownership untenable without owners having to go on the record about the merits of Snyder, the man.
The nuclear option is a vote on Snyder. If 24 owners vote to dump him, he’s gone. It would be unprecedented in the modern history of major American sports leagues—and it would have consequences for the owners. Snyder would likely go scorched earth and try to dish whatever dirt he has on the league and its owners. (Irsay said he’s not particularly worried about this possibility, saying that “you could investigate me until the cows come home … I just shrug it off.”)
It would also establish precedent for removing an owner, something the voting owners have a vested interest in avoiding—you know, because they also own NFL teams, and could be removed by the same mechanism someday. The league is jointly owned by the 31 team owners (and the Green Bay Packers shareholders). The NFL and its owners typically try to make life easy and profitable for each other. It’s why I’ve been skeptical that action on Snyder would ever happen: Kicking out an owner would run contrary to everything about a league that exists to enrich its owners.
And that’s why Irsay going on the record feels like a turning point. He didn’t have to say anything, and it’s hard to imagine how it benefits him to do so—unless he really feels like Snyder is hurting the value of the league and, by extension, his team; and that other owners also think that; and that being prominently at the forefront of the movement to oust Snyder makes him look good. He sought out reporters and wanted to go on the record about Snyder. He really wanted to pop off.
Everybody except for Dan Snyder wants Dan Snyder out as owner of the Washington Commanders—but Tuesday was the first time anybody seemed like they’re prepared to act on it.