The Washington franchise reached a watershed moment on New Year’s Eve of 2019, when owner Daniel Snyder, at the end of a 3-13 season that marked two full decades of futility and failure in the NFL, fired then-president Bruce Allen. Almost immediately afterwards, in the dawning hours of 2020, really, Snyder announced and then introduced Ron Rivera, former coach of the Carolina Panthers, as the newest head coach of the Washington Redskins. At that press conference, the owner also announced a move to a “coach-centric” system, where head coach Rivera would have power and responsibility that was unprecedented in modern franchise history.
What did not happen immediately was notable. The team did not immediately announce the hiring of a general manager or a replacement for ex-president Bruce Allen.
It was unclear initially whether Washington would move forward on a permanent basis with no team executive of this sort, and to simply rely on coach Rivera to be the czar of football operations, personnel and business, but the events that followed last offseason showed that no one man could handle everything.
The franchise underwent massive upheaval last year at this time. Under immense pressure, the owner abandoned the use of the Redskins moniker that the team had used since 1933. This seemed to be part of a larger fight between Dan Snyder and the three non-family minority owners of the team, and the details of that struggle broke into the headlines for much of the past year, until being recently resolved by Snyder and his family members buying out the minority shareholders. In a year of bad news and ugly headlines, the franchise was skewered by two Washington Post articles that detailed sexual harassment and misconduct that had gone on in the team headquarters for 15 years or longer; this prompted a 3rd party investigation which was instigated by Dan Snyder himself, but eventually taken over by the NFL league office. Ultimately, the team was found to be at fault for creating a ‘toxic’ workplace atmosphere and was fined $10 million.
For the first seven months of Ron Rivera’s tenure in Washington, he was, by default, the spokesman for the franchise on all these issues. With no GM or president, Rivera was forced to handle questions about the name change, the sexual harassment stories, the workplace culture and much more. It became quickly apparent that no single person could handle the immense responsibility of running a football team while also making sure the business side was running, and acting as the face of the franchise in answering reporters’ questions about this range of difficult subjects. The fact that Ron Rivera managed this Herculean task for so long while battling cancer, which was diagnosed in the months after he took over in Washington, was almost incredible and clearly unsustainable.
Finally, in mid-August, help arrived in the form of a young energetic executive and former NFL player. The team announced that Jason Wright, who had been a running back for the Falcons, Browns and Cardinals before his retirement after the 2010 season, and who had been working since 2013 at the Washington consulting firm of McKinsey & Company, had been hired to replace Bruce Allen as president of the team.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger contrast between two men than the gulf that separates Jason Wright from Bruce Allen. Allen had come to represent everything that was wrong with the Washington franchise. He represented an old-boys’ network and a fossilized way of doing things that had seen him named the “least trusted” NFL executive in a USA Today poll. By contrast, Jason Wright represents youth, vigor and a new way of doing things.
Jason Wright has spent the past eleven months stamping his own style onto the office of the president. To give you an idea of who Jason Wright is, this tweet shows him interacting with fans at this week’s Richmond training camp.
This is by no means an unusual display of enthusiasm for Wright. In fact, as business executives go, he is almost the embodiment of enthusiasm. His open display of joy seen in the video clip above is emblematic of the general feeling of optimism and renewal that pervades the Washington organization at the moment.
The President and the CEO at training camp https://t.co/6lTer6awa4— Bill-in-Bangkok (@billhorgan2005) July 31, 2021
Jason Wright is just one voice in the organization, but he has taken the lead in explaining issues like the name change, fan engagement and the design and construction of a new stadium.
Wright has become the sole voice on the name change issue in particular, and his approach has been to frame it as a positive step into the future and an opportunity for the franchise to rebrand while honoring the traditions of the past. The team president has communicated clearly and often, writing a “Weekly Brief” that is posted on the team website, and routinely answers fan concerns about the process of choosing a new name, logo and team identity. He is a frequent guest on local radio shows and podcasts, and he represents the team at community events on a regular basis, consistently stressing the need for fan inclusiveness and engagement in the process.
But his efforts to engage and build bridges with fans are not limited to writing memos and doing interviews. Jason Wright has upgraded the team’s efforts to make a difference in the communities where its fans are. Under Bruce Allen, a deal had been struck to bring the team to Richmond, Virginia for training camp every summer for eight years, starting in RG3’s rookie season, when enthusiasm for the team had temporarily peaked. Under that contract, the city would pay the team to run training camp there in the expectation that it would boost local business and tax revenues.
The arrangement didn’t really work out as planned, and the large payment from the city to the team became a burden that was difficult for the city to manage. The relationship between the team and the city (and the city’s residents) quickly soured. What had started as an outreach to make the team more accessible to fans in central and southern Virginia quickly became the opposite; it appeared as if the team, having locked the city into a bad deal, was forcing the taxpayers to add to Dan Snyder’s bottom line.
The cancellation of training camp in 2020 brought some sense of relief to this situation, as it was the final year of the Bruce Allen-engineered contract. The sentiment seemed to be that if the arrangement could just die a quiet death, then that would suit everybody.
So, there was a bit of a sense of surprise a couple of months ago, when Ron Rivera answered a reporter’s question about training camp by saying that it was possible that the team would return to Richmond. Indeed, the team soon after announced that it would spend the first 5 days at the Richmond facility in July before returning to its Ashburn headquarters for the balance of the 2021 preseason.
But the return to Richmond did not see the team slinking into town with its tail between its legs. Under Jason Wright’s leadership, the return to Richmond was a celebration of the team’s reenergized relationship with its fans. The Washington Post this week published a story about Richmond’s Mayor, Levar Stoney, saying that the city and the team have moved on from the “adversarial” relationship that had developed during Bruce Allen’s tenure, and into a new era of partnership. Jason Wright came bearing gifts; the team’s charitable foundation donated $75,000 to the city’s department of parks and recreation.
The Washington Football Team’s charitable foundation is making a $75,000 donation to the City of Richmond’s department of parks and recreation. Will go toward renovating the Hotchkiss Field Community Center. Jason Wright is here. pic.twitter.com/hjEUXjENxW— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) July 29, 2021
This is what Jason Wright does — he brings people together instead of driving them apart. He is a young and energetic spokesman and advocate for a football team that needs exactly that.
If anyone can manage the large-scale project of successfully rebranding and reorienting the image of the Washington franchise, which had spent two decades seemingly doing everything possible to alienate its existing and potential fan base, Jason Wright seems to be that man. He knows football; he knows people; he is energetic, photogenc and telegenic; he is an outstanding communicator, and he is skilled at building bridges to connect people.
In short, the team’s young president is the right man for the right job at the right time, and he can likely look forward to a long and successful tenure as the head of the franchise business operations.
I’d like to add that this atmosphere of renewal and improved way of doing business is extending beyond the president’s office. While it is not in Jason Wright’s bailiwick, the team started the week off with a big positive bang when it announced, just hours apart on Monday, contract extensions for defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and tight end Logan Thomas. Too often under the old regime, good players who were drafted or developed in Washington were allowed to walk away from the franchise instead of being rewarded. Having extended center Chase Roullier in January, these two extensions, announced the day before public training camp practices were set to begin, are a sign that the culture of the organization is changing — not just on the field and in the locker room, but in the business offices, which comprise an integral component of building and maintaining a winning organization.
Looking at where the franchise is this week with contract extensions, the return to Richmond in a spirit of partnership, and the team president literally dancing with the fans on the sidelines offer highly visible signs that the cancer that had been eating away at the organization for decades seems to be in remission, and a vibrant potential new future lies ahead.
With Ron Rivera in charge on the football field and Jason Wright in charge in the offices, it feels like the Washington Football Team has a successful partnership that can take us all boldly into the next phase of franchise history with confidence.