National Football League
Five ways Commanders' new ownership can restore once-proud franchise
National Football League

Five ways Commanders' new ownership can restore once-proud franchise

Updated Jul. 20, 2023 6:26 p.m. ET

The Dan Snyder Era is officially over, and hope has returned to Washington, D.C.

The long-awaited $6.05 billion sale of the Commanders from their embattled former owner to a group led by Josh Harris was officially approved unanimously by NFL owners at their meetings in Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon. That was the final hurdle for Harris, who also owns the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL's New Jersey Devils.

The sale could be closed as early as Friday, according to a source familiar with the terms.

And that moment can't come soon enough for a fan base that has suffered through 24 mostly miserable years under Snyder's watch. His reign included multiple investigations for workplace misconduct and a toxic culture, his disinterest in fixing up a crumbling FedEx Field, an unpopular rebrand of the franchise, more coaching and quarterback changes than anyone could stand, just two playoff victories and an overall record of 164-220-2.


Harris, who grew up in nearby Chevy Chase, Md., is determined to change all that and rebuild the once-proud franchise's image.

"This franchise is part of who I am and who I've become as a person," he said after the vote on Thursday. "But being a fan is not enough. To be successful we understand that we need to win championships, create a positive impact on the community, and create incredible memories and experiences for our fan base."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said "I know the franchise is in good hands," but he's also clearly happy it's in anyone else's hands now that Snyder is no longer his problem. He dispatched the final Snyder controversy on Thursday by announcing the league fined him $60 million on his way out the door as a result of the 17-month investigation by Mary Jo White into allegations of sexual harassment, workplace misconduct and withholding shareable funds from the league.

And while that's a sad footnote to whatever's left of Snyder's tarnished legacy, the NFL and the fans in Washington were far more interested in the future and how quickly Harris could restore the franchise's glory years of his youth.

"I feel an awesome sense of responsibility to the city of Washington," he said. "I know what I have to do. It comes down to winning."

Yes, it does. And as he takes over the team that finished 8-8-1 last season and in last place in the NFC East, he knows that won't be easy.

"A new era of Washington football is here," Harris said. "It's time to get to work."

Here are some of the first things the new owner has to do:

Decide who is in charge of the football operation

If the ultimate goal is to build a winning franchise again, this will be the most important decision Harris and company have to make.

Right now, Ron Rivera is in charge, as he has been since 2000. General manager Martin Mayhew was brought in a year later, but the head coach calls the football shots. Is that the structure Harris wants? And are those the people he wants in charge? He almost certainly won't make any changes now. But by the end of the season he needs to make a decision and a commitment.

The 61-year-old Rivera has been a respected, steady hand on a sinking ship in a sea of turmoil. But his three-year record — 22-27-1 without a winning season and just one playoff berth in a 7-9 season — doesn't inspire confidence. Of course, it could be argued the record is a miracle given Snyder's impact and the long-running quarterback issues. But it's still not good.

The situations are different, but for what it's worth: When Harris bought the Philadelphia 76ers he fired GM Ed Stefanski on the same day the sale closed. But when he bought the New Jersey Devils in 2013 he kept GM Lou Lamoriello on for another two years.

By the end of the 2023 season, he needs to decide who he wants to lead the Commanders for the next five or so years.

Once those people are in place, don't meddle; focus on the business instead

The absolute worst thing a team owner can do is get in the way of the people who run the sports side of his business. That almost always leads to terrible decisions. Just ask anyone who worked for Snyder over the past 24 years.

The good news is that Harris doesn't have a reputation for being a meddler. Also, as the owner of three professional sports teams, he probably doesn't have time to be intricately involved in the day-to-day decisions.

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And in the past, he's sounded like an owner who knows his appropriate place.

"I'd like to keep the visibility on (the general manager and CEO), but not be invisible," he told after his first year as the Devils owner. "The most important job I have as an owner is to pick the two guys next to me and then provide the resources and hold them accountable."

That's the right approach. But he certainly can be more hands-on on the business side of the operation, whether that's with team president Jason Wright running things or someone else. There have been a lot of unhappy, paranoid employees working there, including long-time survivors of what many have described as a toxic culture during Snyder's reign.

Harris needs to rebuild the trust of those employees, make their workplace more pleasant, and more efficient. There will surely be major changes to personnel and structure. But that's much more Harris' area than choosing who the next quarterback should be.

Get working on a new stadium

FedEx Field has long been an embarrassment and probably the least fan-friendly stadium in the NFL. From Snyder's constant tinkering with the capacity and structure, to the maintenance failures, to the bad location. It's 26 years old, but feels much older.

The Commanders obviously and desperately need a new building (and a new practice facility, too) and seem to have plenty of options in Maryland, Virginia, or even possibly in D.C. on the site of the old RFK Stadium. There's been little movement on that front because, according to multiple sources, several local politicians didn't want to deal with Snyder, and some felt they couldn't because of the uncertainty of whether he was selling the team or if the league would force him out.

Some of them, though, are eager to deal with new ownership. In fact, the second the sale was complete, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore put out a statement touting the state's $400 million investment in the area around FedEx Field and saying he "looks forward to continuing conversations" about the team. Harris should — and surely will — look to capitalize quickly on that renewed interest. He surely has already started to lay the groundwork.

Invest in the team (not just by paying players)

The NFLPA players survey released in the fall that showed the Commanders ranked dead last in the league in terms of facilities, treatment of players, their families and more, should've been alarming — if only the bosses cared. They got horrible marks for everything from their tiny hot tubs, to small lockers, to the poor drainage and lack of hot water in the showers, bad food, lack of space on team flights, being forced to have roommates on the road and the way their families are treated.

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Harris has shown a willingness to spend what's necessary with his other two teams, and to do what's necessary to make the organization an attractive destination for other players. He's got a lot of work to get to that point in Washington, but he has to upgrade the facilities and hire the right people to make life more comfortable for his players.

It's the only way to convince good players who have other options to come.

Reconnect with the franchise's history

First of all, the new owners are unlikely to rebrand the franchise. The name "Commanders" is probably here to stay. And they're certainly never going back to "Redskins" given its racist connotations. But that doesn't mean the franchise can't embrace its history far more than it has.

There are plenty of former players who wanted no part of their old franchise while it was being ruled by Snyder, and many didn't feel welcome anymore. Snyder was even being sued by a group of former "Hogs" — the legendary offensive line that's as much a part of Washington football history as any group, ever.

Fans love winning more than anything, but history and tradition is a close second. Harris needs to welcome all the old Washington players back. Honor them at games, invite them to practices, have them speak more frequently to the team so they can connect with the current players. Too few of them are present around the franchise and its media operations.

That needs to change. Because as the Commanders move forward into what they hope is a better future, they will make everyone happy by staying connected to their glorious past.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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