With Dan Snyder gone, here is a list of priorities for the new Commanders owners

In early June, during extensive interviews with Yahoo Sports about sovereign wealth funds and the future of NFL ownership, a pair of longtime and high-ranking team executives couldn’t resist one last jab at Daniel Marc Snyder. The long-embattled Washington Commanders team owner was already on his way out of the league — requiring just a few last-minute deals with his fellow team owners before closing on a history-making sale of his team for $6.05 billion. But even as he headed for the door, Snyder’s 24-year tenure in the league’s ultra-exclusive ownership club remained a crust that critics longed to poke at.

So much so that when the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf tour essentially created a strong-armed partnership with the PGA in June (by buying the Saudis’ partial control of the PGA), the reaction of some C-suite NFL executives was to process the news through Snyder’s pending departure. As it stands now, the league does not allow foreign investment in the purchase of franchises — creating a wall that makes it impossible for sovereign wealth funds like Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to buy into the NFL. But the same executives who saw the league’s stance on gambling take a 180-degree turn couldn’t resist asking some what-ifs about whether attitudes might have changed at the intersection of a monumental sellout price and simultaneous motivation to push Snyder out.

It’s a crossroads that was focused through questions that will now never be answered: What if the Saudis had offered $9 billion for the commanders? What would Snyder have done if club owners had refused to entertain a massive overseas bid? Would the fan base really have cared if the team was owned by a foreign entity? In the end, the most important criterion was simply to find someone who was does not Daniel Snyder?

It was a fan attitude that was not lost on Snyder’s NFL critics. As one executive swiped: “If you’re in Washington, I’m sure fans would rather Qatar own the Commanders than Daniel Snyder. Let’s just call it what it is.”

It was a semi-serious reach for humor, but also a reflection of how Snyder was viewed in league circles as of late. A big step forward for the Josh Harris-led ownership group was already achieved the moment the sale was approved Thursday: The Harris Group is not Dan Snyder, and it’s a good start to the next regime.

Of course, that honeymoon will only last so long. At some point, it will have to produce the kind of results once expected of Snyder when he took over the Washington franchise in 1999. For the youngest generation of NFL fans, Washington’s reputation is as a third-bottom franchise with a disaffected fan base and very little star power or success. What these same young fans aren’t aware of is that when Snyder first took over, Washington was considered one of the cornerstones of the league, worthy of being mentioned alongside the storied teams like the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

This is what the Harris Group is now expected to reclaim. With that in mind, here are four priorities that top the list in the coming months and years…

1. Dig into every closet and under every rock to find the remaining unknowns inside the franchise

Given the time, effort and discovery process that went into Mary Jo White’s investigation of the Washington franchise and Snyder, the final 22-page report (I’m not counting the front page) appeared to the public remarkably short and singularly focused. But the report shed some light on why that was. Both Snyder and individuals inside and outside the organization failed to cooperate in key aspects of the investigation into allegations of financial impropriety and issues of workplace culture. The content of this claim is unequivocal. Something like we found evidence of wrongdoing, but we may not have found all evidence or all wrongdoing.

As the report loudly stated:

“Both Mr. Snyder and the Club failed to cooperate, prolonging the investigation and contributing to an inability to determine: (i) the total amount of improperly shielded NFL revenue; and (ii) the extent of Mr. Snyder’s knowledge and participation in the Club’s improper revenue protection practices.”

It’s a remarkable sentence, especially considering it involved the franchise in Washington essentially defrauding business partners (with NFL team owners) out of millions in revenue that should have been shared. The report also went on to state that other aspects of shared revenue that appeared to be withheld could not be fully detected by the investigation.

For the Harris group, that should underline a priority. Specifically, getting under the hood of everything that was happening financially and culturally inside the franchise and putting a plan in motion to fix it. If Snyder being pushed out of NFL ownership in the wake of this investigation is a bit like Richard Nixon stepping down as president after the Watergate scandal, then the Harris group is the next presidential administration to come in and immediately identify and shut down the remaining shadow operations hiding in previously undetectable corners.

Josh Harris, head of the new Washington Commanders ownership group, greets fans during a pep rally introducing the owners at FedEx Field on Friday in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

2. Restart the workplace and business culture in the building

Snyder is gone. Now the Harris group must ask these natural questions: Did all that dysfunction in the culture go with him? Was one man at the top ultimately responsible for everything that went wrong in the building?

Even in the case of a bad owner leaving a team, NFL history suggests the answers to both of those questions are no, especially when the previous regime spans decades of hiring and culture-shaping.

The simple reality for commanders is that there are likely to be some bad eggs still hidden away within the layers of rank and file management. Snyder does not operate all levers in the team unilaterally. There were people inside the club who probably facilitated some of what was revealed in the Mary Jo White investigation. Or some who remained silent about it even after it became clear that Snyder was on his way out and some of the dirt would be pushed into the sunlight.

One of the best examples of this is the individuals who stood alongside Snyder and played a role in failing to cooperate with parts of the investigation. While some or all of these individuals may have been following orders from Snyder, it’s still worth questioning whether you want these individuals to remain under new management. In a situation like this, turnover is always necessary. And given how unprecedented this ending was for Snyder, the layoffs may have to run deep to ensure real and lasting change in the franchise.

The Josh Harris ownership group has a big task at hand to get fans excited about the Washington Commanders again after decades of incompetence.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The Josh Harris ownership group has a big task at hand to get fans excited about the Washington Commanders again after decades of incompetence. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

3. Find a location and get the stadium project on track as quickly as possible

A new stadium for the Commanders has effectively been tabled since the summer of 2022. With Snyder embroiled in so many investigations and his brand so politically toxic, the franchise had no hope of moving forward with a new stadium. Not only were there no realistic locales that would propose a partnership with Snyder, it’s likely that there was no taxpayer base that would support new stadium infrastructure with him still at the helm.

Not only will that all change now, there’s an argument to be made that the Harris group will have a significant boost in momentum behind their stadium search. From Virginia to Maryland to DC, there will be political support to roll in the next stadium along with the new regime. There should also be some wind in the sails for taxpayer support, with the Harris group’s fresh start offering a full-throttle embrace from fans.

In short, the Harris group is riding a wave of positivity that will have a honeymoon. The quicker it moves to take decisive advantage on the stadium front, the less it will have to worry if football success remains elusive for the next few years. And lest anyone forget, the lease at FedEx Field ends after the 2026 season, giving new ownership less than 3 1/2 years to build a new home. The clock is ticking.

4. Delegate football decisions to the right people and then get out of the way

Whether Snyder was a daily terror to Washington’s football decision-makers — or someone who periodically looked in and made big draft or free agent decisions recklessly and unilaterally — it’s clear that his involvement in the football side of things wasn’t seen as a net positive. In fairness to Snyder, he wouldn’t be alone in that regard. Very few franchise owners are able to weigh in meaningfully when it comes to building a roster, getting a locker room to fit together, hiring the right position coaches or managing a wide variety of personalities and goals.

Harris will have to embrace what he doesn’t know — despite already being part of ownership groups for the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils and former Pittsburgh Steelers. The top spot in an NFL franchise is remarkably different from the other leagues, largely because the organizations themselves are so large and driven by a combination of data, experience and money. Franchises don’t get any bigger than on the NFL stage, leaving them vulnerable to any number of internal mistakes or breakdowns that ultimately ruin a Super Bowl window.

At least initially, the Harris group will have to audit the football side of the ledger and determine which front office executives, coaches, players and support staff will fit moving forward. Like other parts of the building, this means there is some turnover at a high level within football operations. But there is also an element of patience and space at play. Once the group has decided how to shape the upper echelon of football management, it must have the confidence to delegate authority to a select few and then the patience to let those people take control of football.

Including interims, Snyder had an astounding 10 head coaches in 24 years. In the same period, he fielded nine different general managers or de-facto general managers. And the combination of these two extremely important jobs managed to produce two All-Pro players in 24 years. Thaw. It’s fair to wonder if the lack of patience when it came to senior management had something to do with the complete lack of elite talent over more than two decades.

Picking the right people and then having the patience to let those people find a way to work in harmony goes a long way in the NFL. The Harris group should learn from its predecessor and go against the repeated upheavals of the past 24 years.

In the bigger picture, these four laundry lists will be a gigantic task. Getting them all resolved will require years of work and successful decision making. Possibly more. There will almost certainly be errors during the process. But it’s what the Harris group needs to do differently in the face of ego and failure that will separate this regime from Snyder.

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