Last May, an implied message was sent to Dan Snyder.
For months across NFL ownership suites, a straw-polling of sorts had been underway concerning the embattled Washington Commanders leader. Swirling overhead was a maelstrom of trouble and it was intensifying. A messy workplace investigation into Snyder and his franchise had embarrassed the league and put seemingly everyone under a microscope.
The NFL’s lawyers were neck-deep in an effort to win a dismissal in a Snyder-sparked lawsuit from ousted Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden. And buzzing like a mosquito in the background: a Congressional oversight committee that was drawing up subpoenas that included commissioner Roger Goodell.
Right in the middle of it, the USA Today headline dropped on May 21.
“Daniel Snyder’s issues force other NFL owners to mull drastic options: ‘We are counting votes.’”
To outsiders, it was an eyebrow-raising moment. The story implied that the league’s power brokers were not just mulling a forced sale of Washington, but actually doing some high-level polling to see if enough juice existed to make Snyder go away.
“There’s growing frustration about the Washington situation and not over one issue, but over how much smoke there is,” an anonymous owner said in the report. “I think everybody’s getting tired of it.”
Finally, it seemed that Snyder might have worn out his welcome in the billionaire club. The disgust was so thorough that ownership-level sources were anonymously affirming a sentiment that had been building for months, if not years: The group was done and Snyder needed to be pushed. Hard.
To some of those entrenched in the NFL’s executive offices, it was an inevitable act of delivering a message. Something had to be done, but the red-button option of nuking Snyder’s ownership remained unpalatable. But the threat? Why not? If there wasn’t enough courage to vote him out, surely there was the gumption to shove him and see what happened.
One league source privy to some of the NFL’s highest-level committee meetings saw the USA Today story in May and summed it up to Yahoo Sports: “I doubt there’s really a comfort level with voting him out. Owners don’t like the implications of forcing each other to sell. It’s a red line. Even in Dan’s case. But they can try to choke him out, definitely. Leak him out, just hoping he gives up and cashes out.”
In the months that have followed, that has been the quiet part that nobody across the league or in the NFL’s New York headquarters wanted to say out loud. A growing number of powerful owners, including some who have protected Snyder’s in the past, are pushing … shoving … leaking … and hoping for a white flag.
Everybody has known it for a while. Yet nobody of consequence in the NFL has been willing to say it on the record. That is, until Thursday’s lengthy ESPN report on Snyder, which detailed the Commanders’ owner as a knife-out and cornered threat who is ready to wage war if he’s fired. Following that report, which alleged Snyder has gone as far as hiring private investigators to collect dirt on Goodell and the group of owners, the Commanders said the quiet part.
“It’s hard to imagine a piece that is more categorically untrue, and is clearly part of a well-funded, two-year misinformation campaign to coerce the sale of the team, which will continue to be unsuccessful,” a team spokesperson told The Athletic .
That’s an important assertion: Someone (or many someones) with deep pockets is trying to spike Dan Snyder out of the league.
That’s apparently the team’s one-sentence blanket denial of an extremely detailed and striking ESPN story. It’s up to the audience to determine the more compelling statement. Whatever the angle, it’s a confirmation that this mess with Snyder and the Commanders has graduated to the next plateau. Something along the lines of “They’re coming to get me and I’m not going.”
The red line remains. Nothing has changed about Snyder’s level of institutional knowledge when it comes to the league. Think of all the grease and grime that has been hosed into a drain across the NFL since 1999. Take a moment to recall all the top scandals of the past 23 years. Contemplate the backdoor deals that we’ve never heard about. Or the litany of private confidences that have been created between Snyder and any number of franchise owners and league executives.
We didn’t need an ESPN report to know that Snyder is a threat to the league’s underbelly. But now we’ve got it in more defined allegations. Not to mention a response from the team that moves this into a new phase.
Snyder is getting shoved by his fellow club owners. There’s nothing implied about it anymore. And it’s likely only a matter of time before he shoves back.