How Dan Snyder’s latest scandal impacts Commanders sale in 2023

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Dan Snyder
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Dan Snyder /

How do the latest allegations surrounding Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder impact the team’s potential sale in 2023?

I am not a lawyer. You know that because were I one, I would have written “I am not an attorney”. Because that’s what lawyers call themselves.

I offer this disclaimer because I am about to write about the presumed impending sale of the Washington Commanders by owner Dan Snyder without the slightest bit of expert knowledge about the myriad legal issues swirling about any such sale. That hasn’t stopped most football insiders from writing about it, so I figure it shouldn’t bother me either.

A recent bombshell report by ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. has laid out facts suggesting that Snyder may have flouted rules regarding a $55 million dollar loan, which prompted his minority partners to eventually request an investigation by the NFL. The report went on to demonstrate how the NFL, with Commissioner Roger Goodell’s approval, essentially made the problem go away by negotiating a buyout of those former partners.

There is plenty more in Van Natta’s story, but I will leave it to you to read it for yourself.

How is Dan Snyder still the Commanders’ owner?

In a sense, what is surprising about this story is how unsurprising it all is. Most of us outside the world of high stakes, high finance dealmaking assume insider shenanigans like this are de rigueur. But to see it in stark black and white is still pulse-raising.

My brief survey of fans who have seen the report suggests that their anger at Snyder may have reached DEFCON 2. Or, as Pat McAfee so plainly put it on his show, “we do not understand how Dan Snyder is still an owner in the NFL.”

Now, despite the fact that I am not a lawyer – or an attorney – let me try to explain to McAfee et. al. why this is the case.

Snyder is still the Commanders’ owner because the NFL – and by that I mean the other 31 owners – are scared. Scared out of their minds to take serious action against one of their own. If you have ever seen an episode of “The Sopranos” you understand this concept. Made men can get away with an awful lot.

They will slap a fellow owner on the wrists, but they loathe to go farther because:

  1. They are worried about precedent. If they punish an owner for shady dealings, what Pandora’s box does that open? There may well be skeletons in their own locker rooms that they do not want to be exhumed.
  2. There will be legal pushback. With a litigious man like Snyder, that pushback may approach Armageddon-time.

Latest allegations might not speed up Commanders sale

So if you are waiting for this latest blast of detestable public relations news to hasten the sale, I fear you will be waiting a very long time. As near as I can tell – and again, I’m not an attorney – I don’t see how Van Natta’s story has any impact on what either Snyder or the NFL will do.

Who is the injured party here? The three minority owners Frederick Smith, Dwight Schar, and Robert Rothman were the ones to bring this issue to the NFL. They have been bought out – or bought off, depending on how you see this. They eventually concluded that their best course of action was to just get out as quickly as possible – avoiding the need to push this any further.

Some like to argue that Commanders fans have been hurt by Snyder’s actions. It’s been more than two decades of amateurish, incompetent management that has reduced one of the league’s flagship franchises to an afterthought, but good luck making that stand up in court.

The criminal justice system is already investigating Snyder regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. I have little doubt that there will be lots more civil suits contemplated by various other injured parties.

This latest travesty of ethical ownership is not going anywhere because the NFL does not want it to. They have proven that time and time and time again.

If they cared about actually holding owners accountable, there would be a written Beth Wilkinson report for us all to read. There isn’t. That’s all you really need to know about how much they care.

I wrote six months ago that Snyder would not sell this team unless it was under one of several specific circumstances. When evidence seemed to suggest that he was going to sell, I wrote that no sale was imminent. I still believe I was mostly correct in what I wrote, and it essentially all boils down to one issue.

The sale of an NFL franchise is an extraordinarily complex business transaction. This particular sale, given the swirling legal issues surrounding the owner, and the contentious relationships he has had with some in the league, is more complex than most.

We have been entertained by the yacht and jet tracker that drew conclusions about an imminent sale based on the current docking port of Snyder’s M/Y Lady S. Virtually all such reporting has been wrong. Fun – but wrong.

Dan Snyder will make things difficult for Commanders sale

The latest reports suggest Snyder is carrying a massive debt load which will force a quick sale. Maybe. Could certainly be true, but I still maintain no sale is imminent.

There are things going on behind the scenes of which we mere mortals have no conception. If they were just negotiating money, that would take a while, but it would probably be reaching a conclusion sometime this summer.

However, they are negotiating indemnification against future legal action. That is extremely complex.

I suspect that even if the reports of his debt are correct, Snyder still has little to no incentive to make this easy or quick. If anything, his past actions suggest he may enjoy remaining out of sight while dragging it out as long as possible. Until such time that he fears the other owners might vote to remove him, I doubt he’s going to change his mind on this.

This does genuinely hurt fans of the team. Maybe not in a legal manner, but in both practical and psychological terms.

In practical terms, it will be harder to sign free agents and do other long-term strategic planning as long as the ownership question remains unresolved. Remember Trent Green? He probably would have gone down as one of the franchise’s better quarterbacks had he been re-signed prior to the 1999 season. But he wasn’t re-signed because the ownership was in transition.

The excellent signing of Eric Bienemy notwithstanding, the franchise will remain hamstrung until this is over. And there is obvious psychological damage to a battered but proud fanbase. I don’t need to describe that. You are living it every day.

What the NFL is relying on – and with good reason – is that free agency and the draft will erase the temporary indignation we all feel about what Van Natta has revealed. That we will just sigh and ask “how many days to mini-camp?” “Who’s the nickel back in ’23?” “Who will return punts?”

That’s kind of what we do. I do it as much – or more than you. And Roger Goodell knows it.

There was an episode of The Simpsons – I want to say it was about 250 years ago, in the show’s third century of production – when Bart uncovers a plot by Major League Baseball to spy on the American public.

When Bart asks Mark McGwire why MLB would do that, McGwire poses this question: “Do you want to know the terrifying truth – or do you want to see me sock a few dingers!”

The crowd roars back their answer – DINGERS!

Snyder, Goodell, and the NFL still think they know the answer to that question. You don’t need to be a lawyer to see that.

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