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Is Dan Snyder’s Commanders Ownership Coming to an End?

On Wednesday, Snyder announced he would consider “potential transactions” regarding his NFL franchise. And while that language should be taken with plenty of grains of salt, it does signal that change is coming in Washington.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Shamelessness is a skill, and Daniel Snyder has it. This is why he still owns the Washington Commanders despite being despised in two states, one federal district, and more than a few owners’ boxes around the NFL. Put yourself in his shoes. When would you get out? During the first ticket scandal? The third ticket scandal? The workplace conduct investigation? The second one? When the stadium started falling part, or when you couldn’t build a new one because politicians found you too toxic to work with? Now, this is a hypothetical scenario: You probably wouldn’t be in this situation. You’d probably let Mike Shanahan do his job, or notice that that Sean McVay fella seems pretty sharp. There are all sorts of skills in the NFL: Joe Burrow’s vision, Josh Allen’s playmaking, Tyreek Hill’s speed. But nothing can beat Snyder’s ability to not feel shame or embarrassment over the past 23 years.

All progress, George Bernard Shaw said, relies on the unreasonable man. And here’s the unreasonable man, persisting in owning a team that any rational person would have explored selling a decade ago, bending and warping the idea of how bad a franchise owner can be in front of our very eyes. We are witnessing history. Stubbornness mixed with cluelessness. If leaving would be the best thing in this century for your organization, you must have made so many mistakes along the way that they almost run together. At some point, it just becomes one big mistake. And that’s a good way to describe the 23 years of Snyder’s ownership.

This is the beginning of the end for Daniel Snyder. No more than that. This is an owner who has withstood countless investigations, scandals, eyerolls from other owners, fan erosion, and booing. But all of those things coming together at once seems to have changed something. This is an owner who has seen great football minds come to work for him and get tarnished in the process, potential franchise quarterbacks get ruined, a handful of genius assistant coaches leave to do great things elsewhere. If Snyder were capable of fixing things we’d probably have noticed by now—but at least he’s noticed it’s time to start exploring options, his best move in decades.

Wednesday, news broke that Snyder has hired Bank of America to “consider potential transactions” regarding the Commanders—a welcome sentiment for anyone who has ever rooted for Washington, but not yet cause for a victory lap. A report also came out Wednesday that federal prosecutors are looking into whether the team engaged in financial improprieties. It’s unclear whether that forced the transaction news or whether it’s just another one of those typical Snyder scandals. As with all things Snyder, assume the most cynical outcome possible.

There are a couple of things to consider here: The first is that Snyder may not intend to sell the entire franchise at this very moment. He could simply be looking to find minority shareholders to increase his cash flow. A team spokesperson told Ian Rapoport that the team is “exploring all options,” which in rich-guy speak means if they get an offer worthy of selling the whole team, they’re in. The second piece is that this could wind up being a very drawn-out process. Barring a seven-billion-dollar bid from a Jeff Bezos type this week, those potential transactions could follow the pattern of basically every Snyder story: initial confusion, leaks, frustration, a massive mess, and little clarity even at the end of it. The best-case scenario for all involved is that someone quickly meets an asking price, Snyder exits without contest, and Washington fans move on with their lives.

But it may be a long road until then. Do not rule out absolute dud outcomes like, just spitballing, Snyder selling a minority share and saying he’s recommitting himself to being the best owner he can be before defaulting into Snyderdom minutes later, or transferring ownership to his wife, Tanya, branding it as a franchise-changing event, and then changing absolutely nothing.

The one thing we know for certain is that the NFL is not yet pressuring Snyder to sell, and only the most damning conclusions from an ongoing league investigation into potential workplace misconduct in Washington could make them do so anytime soon. Still, when a team is exploring a sale, it’s for sale. It’s the same as the old adage in locker rooms that when you start thinking about retirement, there’s no way back. The vast majority of smoke in NFL franchise sale stories has fire along with it. There are, aside from the optics, enough people desperate to own a team that Snyder’s price will probably be met at some point, and someone will end Washington’s problems. All this even though Snyder’s mismanagement has left little of value.

If you purchase this franchise—and make no mistake, it will go for more than the $4.65 billion the Broncos sold for earlier this year—you are buying little more than the affection of older fans who remember when the team was a crown jewel, guaranteed TV money, and a lot of work to do. It’s a teardown. When my relatives who live in D.C. tell me about the hugely popular and winning franchise that used to operate there, the stories sound fake and detached from anything I’ve ever seen. The new owner will have to build a new stadium—one where fans don’t almost fall onto Jalen Hurts. They’ll probably have to rebrand again, since the Commanders name and identity is as uninspiring as any in the league (just calling them the Washington Football Team would have been better). They’ll have to win back generations of disillusioned fans. And more than anything, they’ll have to climb the hardest mountain, which is establishing a culture that players and employees want to be a part of. There are a lot of smart people in the NFL who would not even put a price on working for Snyder—believe me, I’ve asked around as a sort of party trick. Once you get that reputation, once you earn that reputation, there’s almost no coming back from it.

One of the reasons that Snyder’s era is coming to an end is because the NFL almost assuredly wants it to, even if the league won’t say it or force it. Jim Irsay’s comments at the owners meetings last month—that there was merit to removing Snyder—were the start of the dam bursting. From what I’ve heard from people inside the league, the NFL doesn’t want an ownership vote on Snyder. It doesn’t want owners to sit in a hotel conference room deciding his fate—the league just wants to end this with as little drama as possible. The bar for owners to turn on Snyder was high, and yet he’s cleared it quite easily. A critical paragraph from Peter King this week spells it out:

That is the dissatisfaction of some owners who feel the league has been anti-transparent in all dealings with tarnished owner Dan Snyder, fined $10 million and given a cloudy, strange “suspension” by Roger Goodell last year. As Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay told Nicki Jhabvala and Mark Maske of the Washington Post Friday, “It’s not just what was handed down, the $10 million fine and this so-called suspension that I still don’t really understand, because I told Roger and spoke about it at our meeting, that: Look, I’ve been in the league 52 years. I wasn’t even asked about this, not consulted one time.” Irsay’s a member of the league’s influential Finance Committee, and he’s been the owner of his franchise for 25 years. How he hasn’t been asked his opinion of the Snyder situation and the damage done to the league is surprising. How there hasn’t been a discussion about Snyder in private owner sessions is more surprising. And Irsay is not the only owner unhappy that the whole Snyder issue has been shrouded in secrecy. That part of the story is not over either.

The story is ongoing because the investigations are still ongoing. League-appointed investigator Mary Jo White is in the midst of a broad Snyder inquiry. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero said that Wednesday’s news doesn’t mean any conclusions are near—it’s just one more data point in Snyder’s disaster-riddled tenure.

I do not think that Irsay’s comments directly made Snyder want to sell. But I do think Snyder probably saw them and started to wonder whether the anger from ownership writ large was about to become very public and very nasty. Irsay will not be the last owner to speak about Snyder if he hangs around much longer, and if the league does end up forcing his hand after investigations conclude, that could potentially hurt his sale value.

There’s also the matter that if he stays, Snyder will continue to be a bad owner. The team, though 4-4 on the field, does not have a true path toward becoming a winner. The Carson Wentz trade was a bust, and the roster is not exactly on track to compete with the Eagles and Cowboys next year. Snyder is not going to build a good culture; he has spent two decades proving he is incapable of doing so. Previous minority owners already got out—which is what fuels the idea that Snyder is simply trying to sell minority stakes. But who would willingly give Snyder hundreds of millions of dollars right now? Who wants to even sit near him at a football game, let alone own a football team with him? Wednesday was the beginning of the end of Daniel Snyder. The only question is whether he knows it yet.