The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Daniel Snyder is trapped — and now Washington fans can dare to dream

Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder is pictured before an October game. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
6 min

The news, though vague and subject to change, arrived Wednesday like a heavenly declaration. Daniel Snyder, the billionaire who has overseen the thorough ruination of a prime NFL franchise, is open to selling the Washington Commanders. Perhaps the team can huddle at the end of practice and break with shouts of “Hallelujah!”

Too soon? Yes, for sure. But on this day, that dream didn’t seem so distant.

If the announcement that Snyder hired an investment bank to “consider potential transactions” didn’t yet feel as if their prayers had been answered, long-suffering fans at least can sense that their boos have been heard. The impact of numerous investigations of the alleged misdeeds of the owner and his organization has been felt.

In recent weeks, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay applied pressure and contended “there’s merit to remove” Snyder for creating a toxic workplace culture, which included a disturbing history of misogyny that led to many forms of abusive behavior toward women. Now Snyder, who has tarnished the reputation of a franchise still considered among the NFL’s most valuable, is “exploring all options,” according to a team spokesperson.

Daniel Snyder considers sale of Washington Commanders

It doesn’t mean Snyder is certain to sell the team. He could be attempting to strengthen his financial position as he continues the endless pursuit of a new stadium, and the cleanest way to do so would be to seek new minority investors. But last year, Snyder bought out three limited partners for $875 million after a contentious process, and it would be an embarrassingly imprudent decision for any businessperson to partner with Snyder.

It makes no sense morally; joining forces with an NFL pariah invites incomprehensible scrutiny and guilt by association. It’s questionable financially, too; the price tag would be exorbitant for such a small percentage of a team in which the investor would have little say. And there’s still the probe of financial improprieties that Congress first flagged in March, raising further questions about Snyder’s integrity.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform planned to subpoena Washington Commanders' owner Daniel Snyder on June 22 citing the team's "toxic" environment. (Video: Jackson Barton/The Washington Post, Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

In August, Forbes estimated the Commanders to be worth $5.6 billion. If so, raw math says a 10 percent stake should cost $560 million. But the negotiation is tricky because the true value of owning a small part of a sports team is never a straightforward discussion. Who wants to approach $1 billion for a piece of the Snyder headache?

Surely, Snyder doesn’t want to sell the Commanders. But he and his wife, Tanya, are making a shrewd decision to look around. In a just sports world, he wouldn’t have any luxurious options to explore. He already would have faced accountability so stiff that he wouldn’t have a team. But that’s not how this game works. Facing problems he caused from all directions, Snyder has the chance to escape on a golden parachute. He doesn’t deserve one, but the people who still love this franchise and remember what it can be deserve freedom. Closure could be on its way — finally.

For a change, there could be alignment for Snyder and a fan base that has turned against him. There could be hope for a resolution that doesn’t involve years of litigation and an all-out war between Snyder and the rest of the NFL team owners. But such a scenario requires a motivated ownership group that probably would have to pay a preposterous, record-shattering price.

Rob Walton and his group bought the Denver Broncos for $4.65 billion in June, establishing the new largest sale price. Forbes ranked Denver the 12th-most-valuable NFL team. The Commanders were sixth, and in Snyder’s case, we are talking about an obstinate owner being forced to consider something he would rather not do. Any offers could start at the $5.6 billion estimate, but they’re not likely to end there. It would have to be the sweetest deal to entice Snyder.

He is 57, a teenager compared with most NFL owners. He was 34 when he bought the team in 1999, fulfilling a childhood dream. With good health and the dexterity to keep fending off his troubles, Snyder easily could run the franchise for another quarter century. He paid $800 million for a team valued at seven times that now, but despite making so much money off such bad football, the multiplier must keep humming to pacify the lack of an emotional return on investment.

Snyder has made himself a villain through his actions. After 23 years, there is nothing he can do to change that. During a Week 7 game against the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field, the crowd — members of which chanted “Sell the team!” that afternoon — booed Tanya Snyder when she appeared in a video about breast cancer awareness. Such moments must sting the most. Tanya is a breast cancer survivor, but in that moment, she symbolized nothing more than an awful reign that will not end. There is no compassion, no understanding at this point in the relationship. There is no respect, either. There is only desperation.

Wednesday provided an indicator that the desperate feeling is mutual. For more than two decades, Snyder often has operated as if he could do this forever, impervious to criticism and focused solely on his own happiness. But what happens when the privilege of not having to answer to anyone starts to evaporate?

Snyder has few allies not on his payroll and an overflowing list of people who can detail why being associated with him isn’t worth it. His adversaries aren’t just the exasperated fans he can’t win over. They are in the government. They are women and former employees who refuse to stay silent. They are lawyers, and they are civic leaders who mock his driftless efforts to persuade multiple municipalities to engage in a bidding war for a new stadium. And now, with Irsay as the face of the disapproval, it appears NFL owners may be willing to abandon one of their own.

Snyder didn’t just wake up and decide to be transparent. He didn’t want us all to know that he’s considering “potential transactions,” but he needed the wealthiest of the wealthy to know that, with all the heat he’s feeling, he’s up for a game of “Offer Me Something Ridiculous.”

He needs options. He needs out of the corner he finds himself trapped in. He needs a path to a win — or at least justification of an otherwise forced exit.

It’s premature for fans to rejoice because a fickle owner announced a process that could be long and tenuous, but it was a big day nonetheless. Snyder doesn’t seem so defiant anymore.