It’s still blackmail if it’s done in plain sight. Daniel Snyder’s alleged antics to uncover disparaging information about other league owners — and possibly NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell himself — were detailed in Thursday morning’s near-8,000-word ESPN expose written by Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham, and Tisha Thompson.
The report cites Snyder recently saying he’s garnered “enough secrets to blow up several NFL owners,” with the league office and Goodell as fellow casualties. Snyder’s perceived contingencies are in place in order to protect himself from any attempt to oust him from his perch as the Commanders’ owner.
The report alleges Snyder has told personal confidantes that he can’t be fucked with, which has a certain bravado to it, even if Snyder is completely bluffing. It matches the nerve of Snyder to put his foot down and acquire aging stars such as 37-year-old Bruce Smith and 33-year-old Deion Sanders in the same offseason against the wishes of his advisors purely to move the needle. “I’m the fucking owner, and if you don’t do this, I’m going to kill you,” he’d sometimes tell high-level football staff half-jokingly, a former team executive told ESPN, as if a 50 percent death threat shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Snyder’s missteps have been well documented. From the toxic workplace culture he fostered, to financial tampering, to the deterioration of FedEx Field and overall fan interest, it’s easy to see how the walls might be closing in on the 57-year-old. His stranglehold on one of the league’s most-storied franchises, and one that hasn’t added shit to its trophy case in the 21st century, continues to be questioned. All this dropping before the Commanders play in the Thursday Night primetime contest is a test for the NFL. It’d be a shock not to hear this report mentioned on-air less than a dozen times.
Regardless of how this report came together and the clashing narratives, this appears to be a coordinated effort among several movers and shakers within the NFL. ESPN and the NFL are business partners after all. The network wouldn’t publish anything that would damage its reputation with America’s most popular sports league. After talking with more than 30 sources, ranging from current league and team executives, to lawyers and Washington employees — all of whom spoke anonymously — the scope of this story is massive. Did Snyder himself pull the trigger on this story, beating other owners with dirt on him to the punch? Or was it the other NFL owners and executives, with a massive effort to rid the NFL of a bad apple? We delve into the fallout below.
What is the biggest takeaway?
DJ Dunson: How long can Dan Snyder hold his ground against mounting opposition to his ownership? At the very least, multiple owners contributed to the reporting on this story. He reportedly has a file on Jerry Jones, but what’s out there that Jones hasn’t already brushed off and moved on from? All that did was aggravate Jones, who is washing his hands of Snyder, according to a source in the ESPN exposé, who suggested Jones told Snyder he might not be able to help him.
Is it really that much of a surprise that Snyder’s holding onto blackmail against owners including allies? He’s done this sort of thing before. Allegedly, the leaked emails which got Jon Gruden canned by Las Vegas were Snyder’s “horse’s head in the bed” moment. It’s not a coincidence that every single correspondence shared came from former Washington exec Bruce Allen.
After all, it was Snyder’s lawyers who discovered and shared the offensive emails from Allen that eventually led to Allen’s dismissal. His efforts to dodge blame are pathological. Snyder is beginning to remind me of a certain despot who used to occupy the White House and used any means at his disposal to hold onto the reins of power.
Eric Blum: It’s not a shocker to see how Washington has gained little traction in the NFL over the last three decades. It’s a crap organization either pretending a problem doesn’t exist or overcorrecting the issue at the expense of others. The team that formerly went by a racial slur hasn’t appeared in a conference championship game under Snyder’s ownership, a trickle-down effect from poor management. If you believed the worst about Snyder, billionaires, and people leveraging their power, this story is right in your wheelhouse.
There’s no shot the NFL didn’t know this turmoil being made public wasn’t coming. It might not have been public knowledge before Jerry Jones’ 80th birthday, which coincides with the posting of this piece, but this in-fighting had to be a major topic in NFL circles, possibly leading to some owners believing the right move was to broadcast these alleged shady backdoor deals to everyone.
“The Worldwide Leader” breaking the story that pierces through the NFL’s armor comes from solid reporters. The content of the article isn’t in question, even with two different stories being presented at once. It makes sense that those close to Snyder don’t think he’s that bad. It also checks out that someone would hate Snyder for everything he’s done at the Commanders’ helm. Someone looks at him like Lord Farquaad in Shrek and wants to be the dragon that eats him and belches up his crown. We just don’t know who Princess Fiona, or Donkey, the best noble steed voiced by Eddie Murphy, could be in this scenario.
What does the NFL have to gain from this story?
Dunson: To bounce off Eric’s point about Snyder, the NFL has to mythologize its role in slaying the dragon defending the Commanders’ dilapidated castle. Ultimately, they win by absolving themselves and creating distance between the league and their rogue owner. In reality, the owners who are upset with Snyder could vote him out tomorrow. If he’s holding a guillotine over the heads of a few owners, a majority could still vote Snyder out. It will be interesting to see if Al Michaels, Kirk Herbstreit, and/or the TNF analysts even address the report on air.
There may be a cabal of owners who wanted this story out there specifically to provide traction for a removal vote at the Fall Owner’s Meetings on Tuesday. They may be figments of my own imagination, but it would be comforting to imagine a Snyder resistance is doing the surreptitious groundwork to end his reign of terror in D.C.
Blum: It’s hard to say what the NFL could gain without knowing the endgame for those involved in anonymously speaking for this story, outside of absolving the league of any alleged schemey people. Snyder has had dozens of unscrupulous things said about him without his job being in question. Someone’s getting kicked out of the club via mutiny, therefore raising the chances of uniting the rest of the group, is one benefit. They should broadcast it. They already have a format made on CBS for this kind of discourse: A tribal council on Survivor. Bring on Jeff Probst, too.
The NFL as a whole benefitting from this story short-term and long-term makes too much sense. After last week’s all-time stinker between the Colts and Broncos, what interest would Washington playing Chicago have? Now one of the teams’ owners just got a whirlwind of bad press. It should pop a big rating for however Amazon Prime measures viewership. Also, how about more revenue from a big team? On Thursday, Washington announced a ticket plan for home games against the Vikings, Falcons, and Browns starting at $99. That’s an unfathomable price for one game 25 years ago.
The 32 league owners control everything about the NFL, whether they do the mundane work or not. There’s a reason why most imminent problems for the league, concussion protocol standards and roughing the passer penalties to name two, are so slow to be fixed even if the remedy is obvious. Riding their odd fraternity of someone backstabbing the others is straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, except no one will suddenly die. Although that would be great for the NFL’s ratings, too. If Snyder is the one to be removed, the chances are better one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises can return to glory.
Besides the NFL, who benefits the most from this? Who suffers?
Dunson: Team president Jason Wright and any exec who’s tried to steer the Commanders back to the winning path come across as tragic figures attempting to circumvent Snyder’s deleterious meddling. He comes across as even more delusional than I previously thought. Snyder reportedly threatening high-level football staff for overriding his base instincts to throw bundles of guaranteed money at aging stars sounds par for the course.
Snyder v. the world is the standard modus operandi for the Commanders owner. This is exemplified by an excerpt in which an associate of Snyder’s relays his comparing the NFL to the mafia in which, “all the owners hate each other,” is followed by a scathing response by another fellow owner. “That’s not true,” the anonymous owner said. “All the owners hate Dan.” The projection is too much to take.
Blum: Snyder losing the team would hurt him tremendously. The series of carefully reported exposés about him in the past haven’t taken him down. And the NFL has different goalposts to hit to make an owner go away, unlike how the NBA was able to remove Donald Sterling and Robert Sarver. All of the alleged yes-men in Snyder’s orbit will be out of a job and decades-long problems within the organization won’t go away overnight. If you have a massive bug problem, it takes time to exterminate. I don’t see this as bad press for the NFL as a whole, or even Washington for that matter. The fanbase at large hates Snyder and believes the team would be better off if he never stepped near a team facility again. The NFL gets enough grief for how they treat alleged sexual misconduct and several other issues where one meddling team owner doesn’t register as a stop-the-presses story.
One person who also benefits from this story is Jones, who declined to comment for the report, as did a Cowboys’ spokesperson. It sounds like someone was talking shit behind his back and got caught. If there’s an owner in sports who wouldn’t care if people find out shitty things about him, it’s Jones. That doesn’t mean he’ll chop Snyder out of his life without another thought. The hated rivals’ owners were just chumming it up in Arlington a few weeks ago. That might’ve been all pretend.
Looking dumb from this story are John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, partners at Holland & Knight, one of the law firms representing Snyder. The passage “ESPN’s reporting ‘cannot change the team’s great transformation or the Snyders’ commitment to making this transformation permanent’” appears. What in the actual fuck does that mean? It’s inexplicably worded.
What happens now?
Dunson: The war over Snyder’s removal has already begun, we just didn’t know it yet. We may never see a messier process again. The only thing left to do is for Dan to go out guns blazing, release his Snyder Cut, and walk away from the explosion. It won’t win him any fans, but at least he’ll be able to cash out in a multi-billion dollar sale of the franchise, escape amid the chaos and lock his other 31 peers inside the burning building.
Blum: Something has to give. This story is a point of no return among the 32 owners, especially with a forum planned in Manhattan on Tuesday. If Snyder goes, he won’t be alone and it’ll set the tone for how to forcibly remove NFL owners moving forward. League protocol states that 24 owners (75% of NFL owners) must vote to remove one of their contemporaries for it to be successful. Everyone is about to lay their cards out on the table and see who has the best hand. If Snyder’s bluffing, bye-bye problem. If he’s not, bye bye bye, due to the guarantee he won’t go down without a fight or alone.