Daniel Snyder's issues force other NFL owners to mull drastic options: 'We are counting votes'
As Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder is under investigation for financial improprieties, some NFL owners are frustrated and may support an ouster, forcing Snyder to sell his franchise.
ATLANTA – Daniel Snyder isn’t officially on the agenda for the NFL meetings this week.
Unofficially, the controversial Washington Commanders owner – under investigation from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Virginia attorney general after allegations of financial improprieties were revealed in a Congressional committee probe – is very much on the minds of some fellow NFL owners who would go as far as trying to force Snyder from their ranks.
“There’s growing frustration about the Washington situation and not over one issue, but over how much smoke there is,” an NFL team owner told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. The owner did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
“I think everybody’s getting tired of it.”
Snyder has denied any wrongdoing in the latest controversy. He won’t be at the owners meetings that begin on Monday in Atlanta, and last year relinquished “day-to-day control” of his franchise to his wife, Tanya, after some details of a toxic workplace culture that included sexual harassment were exposed.
One of the stunning allegations that surfaced in early April maintained that Snyder’s franchise used two sets of accounting systems, conceivably to shield money from other NFL owners with whom Snyder is connected as part of league-wide revenue-sharing.
“If that happened, I think that’s the nail in the coffin,” another NFL team owner told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. The owner did not want to be identified, due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
It’s unclear exactly how many team owners would push for action against Snyder. A third team owner responded to an interview request by indicating that he would wait until the pending investigations were resolved. Several other owners declined or didn’t respond to interview requests.
A fourth team owner, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told USA TODAY Sports that the brewing anti-Snyder movement is significant – and was before the latest allegations surfaced. The owner, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, described a session during the last league meeting in late March in Palm Beach, Florida, that included commissioner Roger Goodell and owners, when several owners openly expressed their angst.
“We are counting votes,” the team owner told USA TODAY Sports.
By “counting votes,” the message is clear: Some would support an ouster forcing Snyder to sell his franchise for what would likely be a record amount. It would take 24 votes – three-fourths of the NFL’s ownership membership – to pass a measure to oust Snyder from the club.
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Of course, it’s premature for such a drastic measure as the investigations, fueled by a whistleblower who previously worked for the franchise, are ongoing.
By the same token, it’s significant that fellow owners are weighing options.
“For the first time, there’s been chatter,” the second team owner told USA TODAY Sports. “We should really think about doing something if they find something there.”
The momentum building within the NFL ownership ranks underscoring disgust with Snyder comes against a backdrop of criticism (well-deserved) that suggests NFL owners are not fully policed by Goodell for various transgressions in the same manner in which he drops the hammer on players.
Snyder’s series of episodes not only cast Goodell in negative light (again) as he inexplicably didn’t demand a detailed written report (a la Deflategate or the Miami Dolphins bullying saga) but settled for an oral report for the Beth Wilkinson-led investigation into the workplace culture issues with Snyder’s franchise.
According to two owners, the lack of a written report that would have ensured better transparency was one of the concerns vehemently raised by owners to Goodell during the meetings in March.
“We don’t know what’s going on in Washington,” one of the owners said. “There’s a lot of frustration with that. My instincts are that there will be a harder push for more information.”
At the very least, the first owner contended, Snyder should have received much harsher discipline from Goodell after the NFL “investigation” in 2021 confirmed toxic workplace improprieties that existed for more than a decade. Last July, Goodell fined Snyder $10 million, and rather than officially suspend the owner (which once derailed then-San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.), the league and Snyder agreed to an arrangement that allowed the owner to give up “day-to-day control” while remaining engaged in efforts to strike a deal for a new stadium.
Interestingly, Washington coach Ron Rivera acknowledged last season that he speaks regularly to the owner. No, the lax conditions or the “non-suspension” and slight fine amount have not gone over well with at least some fellow NFL owners.
“There’s a feeling, a sense of disappointment amongst the owners that I talk to – I don’t talk to them all, but owners who come to the meetings and are active – that he wasn’t suspended,” the team owner told USA TODAY Sports. “Disappointment that Roger did not act stronger.”
And if the allegations of financial improprieties hold up?
“Certainly, that would be a major, major issue,” the team owner replied.
It’s rare that an NFL owner – or the owner of any pro sports franchise – is forced to sell.
In 1997, DeBartolo was forced to turn over his stake in the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, after he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony that involved him paying former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards $400,000 for a riverboat gambling casino license.
In 2014, Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA after secretly recorded racist comments by the then-Los Angeles Clippers owner were released – prompting several NBA stars to threaten to boycott the playoffs. The franchise was soon sold by Sterling’s estranged wife.
After details of workplace misconduct surfaced in December 2017 that directly implicated Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, the franchise was quickly put on the market and sold for a then-NFL record $2.2 billion. The decision to sell never involved any formalized measures from fellow NFL owners. Richardson, who owned about half of the franchise that he founded in 1993 for $206 million, earned more than $1 billion after the sale to current owner David Tepper.
Perhaps Snyder could be similarly motivated by money and voluntarily sell out of the NFL. Snyder was the lead partner in a franchise that sold for a then-record $800 million in 1999. Now, the team is rated the fifth-most valuable in the NFL, according to Forbes, with a valuation in 2021 at $4.2 billion. With the Denver Broncos currently on the market and expected to fetch at least $4.5 billion, an industry analyst suggested that the sale price for Washington would be staggering, in excess of $6 billion.
Then again, Snyder hardly seems like the type who would voluntarily give up a franchise set up to be ultimately passed on to he and Tanya’s three children.
No, Snyder would have to go away while kicking and screaming. Remember, this is the same man who refused to budge on changing the racist team name, which insulted many Native Americans, until team sponsors demanded otherwise.
Part of the argument in the anti-Snyder camp among NFL owners is that the once-proud, signature NFL franchise has become a national embarrassment while existing in one of the league’s most desirable markets.
“I don’t know if he did these things they’re alleging now,” one of the owners said. “But I do know that no one in that market likes the guy.”
As one of the other owners put it, “There are some owners who believe the league will be better off with a different owner in Washington. At one time, it was one of the best franchises in the NFL.”
Not anymore. It’s a franchise trying to restore its reputation on and off the field – led by an owner trying to keep from getting crushed by the walls that are closing in on him.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.