The Washington Post
Commanders’ shame offers the next owner a glittering opportunity
In an awkward ownership purgatory, the Washington Commanders are left to answer for shortcomings that may or may not be correctable, depending on whether their temperamental owner sells the team. They’re a dumpster fire staring at the hose that could save them, except no one is certain whether the water is coming.
The closer the end seems, the more the franchise’s reputation burns. It seems Daniel Snyder cannot yet grip his golden parachute because his hands are too clammy from dealing with a mountain of legal problems that he wants to disappear if he cashes out of the NFL. But beyond the news of his attempts to receive indemnification and evade accountability for his many alleged misdeeds, the entire organization has had to deal with yet another embarrassment about its chintzy operation: It has been rated the league’s worst workplace for players and their families.
That revelation came via a player survey administered by the NFL Players Association. The purpose wasn’t to humiliate the Commanders; it should be noted that players were dissatisfied with most of their teams when asked to evaluate them comprehensively in eight essential categories. But even in a sport full of profits-over-people leadership, the Commanders look especially bad. Even worse, it is the least surprising news of the offseason.
Still, it shouldn’t be dismissed as just another black eye for a team burdened with more controversies than you can follow. Remember this one. Mark it as a priority on the agenda of a potential new owner. It’s a rather easy action item that presents an opportunity for immediate goodwill, and if addressed properly, it could have a lasting impact in changing the franchise’s perception in the locker room, throughout the region and around the league.
The objective is greater than receiving passing grades on the players’ report card, but a transformative level of reinvestment starts there. In a league with a hard salary cap and a parity-based structure, it’s advantageous to devote resources to create nirvana for players to train, fuel their bodies and gather with loved ones. But Snyder has never placed sufficient value on things that, in his mind, don’t translate directly to making money.
NFL players critiqued their teams in eight areas: treatment of families, food service/nutrition, weight room, strength coaches,
training room, training staff, locker room and team travel.
Washington got an F for the way it treats families, and it was tagged with three F-minus grades for its training room, locker room and travel arrangements. Yes, F-minus is an actual score. When I was growing up, that was a mythical mark you would joke about but figured no one would ever see. F-minus? That’s like failing without effort. What did the Commanders do? Score a zero and then get caught trying to cheat off the Houston Texans?
They failed or failed dramatically in half the categories, tying for last among the 32 teams or occupying the basement outright. The training staff got a D (31st of 32 teams), and the food services a D-plus. The weight room was good enough for a C-plus. The strength coaches were exceptional, however, getting an A-plus, which tied for the best grade in the league.
This is the latest glimpse into how much needs to be fixed after 24 years of Snyder’s negligent ownership. If there’s anything good about the soaring values of American pro sports franchises and the extreme wealth gap that limits the people who can purchase them, it’s that the buyer leading any group willing to fork over more than $6 billion will have the financial resources to afford both the toys and expenses necessary for upkeep.
When negotiating with Snyder, aspiring owners would be wise to factor in about $1 billion of investment on top of the franchise price. That extra money would include sharing the cost of a new stadium; a thorough upgrade of the team facility (and the services it provides) in Ashburn, if not relocation; a robust marketing and rebranding investment that must include, at minimum, a fresh evaluation of the new Commanders name; and various upgrades, including additional hires, in the business and football operations to support an actual long-term vision.
These vital repairs make it all the more preposterous that Snyder is attempting to use this sale to erase all his problems. Considering his debt and cash flow issues, he should be happy to accept the highest bid and handle all the deplorable loose ends like a responsible human being.
There is no cure-all for his various entanglements, which include investigations into alleged financial improprieties as well as the toxic, abusive workplace environment he created. But if he can sell a stadium-needy team that he ran into the ground for a record price, he should take the win. Snyder can commission a painting of him and his wife, Tanya, laughing at their heist if he wishes.
Most Washington fans would care only about the thrill of freedom from distress. Such hope would be a priceless perk for the new owner, who could garner instant credibility simply for not being an obstinate killjoy. Then, with a solid investment plan to remake the organization, potential exists for the Commanders to quickly make strides toward becoming a firstclass franchise. The bar is so low that standard touch ups will produce headlines and effusive praise. Do it right, and the Commanders’ notorious image will improve from the current, burdensome assumption that they do everything wrong.
There’s optimism in the despair, as long as Snyder takes a hike. Investors shouldn’t look only at the frightening side of the team’s current state. It’s rare to be able to buy into a franchise with so much legacy and growth potential. Snyder has spent nearly a quarter century tarnishing the team, but he still might sell it for eight times the $800 million he paid to acquire it. Forbes estimated the Commanders to be worth $5.6 billion last summer, ranking it the sixth-most-valuable franchise in the NFL.
Look at the top five — the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants and Chicago Bears — and you’re talking about franchises that operate in bigger markets, have enjoyed more recent success or play in stadiums more suitable to maximize revenue. Washington is living off its brand, and it’s a brand that has been improperly maintained. Yet despite more than two decades pocked with F-minus moments, this remains a desirable asset.
It’s evidence that, for now, NFL ownership is a foolproof investment. But it also speaks to the substance of the Washington market. Even with nearly three decades of erosion, fan loyalty continues to offer an opening.
Fixing this franchise doesn’t have to be a burden. It’s an honor with infinite privileges and curable headaches. It just requires a considerate caretaker — and a long-overdue departure.