It was 4:57 p.m. when local radio host John Auville, better known as “Cakes from the Junkies,” took the stage at the Bullpen outside Nationals Park. He looked out into the crowd of about a hundred fans and relayed the news — finally, officially — for which so many had waited so long.
“The nightmare is done!” he screamed as the crowd roared. “Dan Snyder is dead! Long live Josh Harris!”
Over the next hour, fans streamed into the square ringed by bars and shipping containers. Many wore jerseys or a wide array of Snyder-hate shirts: “Fire Dan Snyder,” “Worst Owner Ever,” “D-----bag,” “Sell the Team,” “Burgundy & Sold” and three or four different versions of “Bye Dan,” including one with the team’s mascot, Major Tuddy, as a bouncer throwing Snyder out.
Puffs of cigar smoke wafted through the air. Friends and strangers toasted plastic cups of amber. The sight of asphalt covered by burgundy-and-gold-clad life felt unfamiliar; it was fuller here than the parking lots at FedEx Field have been in years. Over and over, the fans told each other that they couldn’t quite believe Daniel Snyder had actually sold their team.
Harris said he’s focused more on immediate issues, such as the football season, getting back in the community to reconnect with the fan base and improving the fan experience at games.
“It’s not about how I feel, it’s about how the city feels about all this stuff,” Harris said, when asked in part if he liked the name. “We’re going to look at everything and see where we are, but those are our three priorities now.”
An estimated 5,000 fans attended an event at FedEx Field on Friday afternoon to celebrate Harris’ group taking over. They were joined by several former Washington players, including Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green, and Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.
After Harris addressed the media Friday, he headed to where the fans were. He bounded up the stage and exchanged high-fives with fans. Later, after Johnson addressed the crowd, the fans started chanting, “Thank you Josh! Thank you Josh!”
“I’ve waited seven years to see the fan base like this,” Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen told the crowd earlier at the event.
Receiver Terry McLaurin, the other current player in attendance, said, “There’s an enthusiasm around here. There’s a lot of optimism for the future.”
“You truly don’t understand the weight of everything,” McLaurin said. “Even I couldn’t appreciate the weight, but when you get the questions, obviously the things you see in the media and things like that — it weighs on you. Now it’s like a clean slate for everyone.
“Everyone gets to get back to focusing on what’s on the field instead of worrying about what could be going on off the field.”
1. He feels a “tremendous” amount of responsibility to the city to deliver a winning product.
Harris grew up during the powerhouse years of the Washington franchise. Some of his best memories are of him walking to RFK, and he spent his days watching the likes of Doug Williams, Darrell Green, Mark Rypien and scores of other Washington Legends.
So, he knows how important the franchise is to the DMV.
2. Excellence, dignity, respect and inclusivity.
Harris believes he and his group of partners are up to the task of building a championship franchise, and that work starts today.
In order to do that, he wants to fill the organization with the best, most committed people. They will be found based on a culture that is held up by four principles: Excellence, dignity, respect and inclusivity.
3. He wants to create a better experience for fans.
“We now think of the stadium as our house,” Harris said. “So, we have to make it good for people who visit. We’re going to throw a party every other Sunday,” Harris said. “And when you have guests in your house, you treat them well. You don’t have couches that are broken. You don’t have TVs that aren’t working.”
4. He wants to give back to the community.
“We see the winners in the front row, and not only did they win Super Bowls, but they also made the community great,” Johnson said.
Johnson promised that he will be hands on with the team’s efforts to invest in the DMV, because he wants to invite the fan base to be a part of what the organization is building in Washington. He wants them to get an up close and personal look at the process of creating a championship team.
“We want to give back,” Johnson said. “We want to make an impact on this great community that we’re doing business in.”
5. He’s looking forward to the product that Ron Rivera puts on the field.
“This is a big season,” Harris said. “We look forward to learning and watching and seeing what happens. I’m very excited to be spending time with Coach Rivera and his staff and players and understanding what’s going on. I’m very supportive right now of what we’re doing.”
Give credit to Josh Harris for this: It has taken him no time to reveal a positive bias toward the Washington “Redskins” ... er, “Commanders.” And in addressing that while in the same two sentences also taking a poke at the hated Dallas Cowboys, the new owner has ingratiated himself with D.C. faithful.
“It’s hard to imagine, but I’ve seen the numbers,’’ said Harris, who took over in public on Friday after the ouster/sale involving the “asinine” and disgraced Dan Snyder. “The Commanders were once the No. 1 franchise in the NFL back when they were the Redskins - not the Dallas Cowboys.”
New #Commanders owner Josh Harris: “It’s hard to imagine but I’ve seen the numbers. The Commanders were once the #1 franchise in the NFL back when they were the Redskins. Not the Dallas Cowboys.”— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) July 21, 2023
Harris says he wants to bring those glory days back.
Maybe the Harris group, which also includes Magic Johnson, will offer a real foundation of success, something Snyder often seemed like he wasn’t really even trying to achieve. To Harris’ credit, though, for now? He concedes where the “Redskins” ... er, Commanders ... are truly perched.
“The opportunity is up here,” Harris said, gestured with his hand held high. “And the work is up here.”
Josh Harris, the billionaire face of the new group overseeing the team, shouldn’t be treated as a savior. If you felt powerless during the Snyder reign, it would be imprudent to enter this relationship without dictating new terms. Fan obsession created the business model that allows owners to feel invulnerable, and that level of passion is most effective as a negotiating tool at the start of something fresh.
It is not enough that Harris isn’t Snyder. It is not enough that Harris grew up in the area and has a solid reputation as an investor in other sports franchises. This is his greatest challenge: to be a conscientious guardian of an ailing legacy NFL franchise. He and his partners will profit, but the unconditional demand must be that they serve.
Snyder didn’t serve. He abused the privilege. Still, he made tons of money every year and then sold the team for a record amount, which was nearly eight times the $800 million purchase price (then a record, too) in 1999. In almost a quarter century, Snyder may have improved a doorknob. Other than that, he thrived despite ruination. People love the team too much to see it truly fail.
The next era needs to be different. Snyder’s exit is a relief and a reason to apply pressure because the new owner is actually listening. Harris will care to make an impression. He will find broken items all over the place. But his group attached a lot of money to its aspirations and belief in the franchise. To realize those dreams, Harris must repair all of the relationships that Snyder shattered.
Dan Snyder, in his wretchedness, not only ran the on-field product into the ground, but also made people who had passed their love for the team down through generations cringe at the notion of supporting him, through his team. As a result, FedEx was overrun by fans of opposing teams in recent seasons. You can’t stress enough how bad things became on his watch. The team is not just a community asset. It is a source of pride and ties to a city, both the federal and local parts, that often works overtime to divide people from one another. The Commanders, for two decades, under George Allen and Joe Gibbs, soldered the community together.
“This franchise is part of who I am, and who I’ve become as a person,” Harris said in brief remarks Thursday after the vote. “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 great experiences for our fan base, much as I had as a youth growing up in Washington.”
Josh Harris, to reporters in Minnesota, on his purchase of the Commanders: "I'm going to be remembered by what I do in Washington. That's not lost on me."— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) July 20, 2023
The Washington Commanders have signed rookies Emmanuel Forbes and Quan Martin.
In a corresponding move, the Commanders have also placed safety Xavier Henderson on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list.
With @Sam4TR as we discuss Josh Harris’ first day as owner. The scene at FedEx. Unlike anything I’ve seen in a while. What stood out from the Harris presser. The fans. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/RmXrDPCIA8— John Keim (@john_keim) July 22, 2023
Episode 615 - It happened. In-depth discussion of a glorious day. React to comments from Josh Harris, analysis of the Mary Jo White report/$60M penalty & a final goodbye to Dan Snyder's horrendous ownership. #Commanders— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) July 21, 2023
I also discuss a big #Orioles win.https://t.co/1dEEQNeIJh
Great interview with Magic Johnson on the Today Show. He laughs when the fan disdain for the name is brought up and says a potential change is on the table. pic.twitter.com/nVa2sU5iHc— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) July 21, 2023
NFC East links
Big Blue View
Beasley reunites with coach Brian Daboll
Beasley, 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, is a 34-year-old who will be entering his 12th NFL season. He played in just four regular season games last season, two with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and two with the Buffalo Bills.
The Giants reportedly attempted to sign Beasley last season after the Buccaneers let him go early in the season. A deal was never worked out, though, and Beasley ending up signing with the Bills late in the season.
Beasley played three full seasons for Buffalo from 2019-2022, and his offensive coordinator at the time was current Giants head coach Brian Daboll. Thus, there is tremendous familiarity.
This likely indicates that the Giants are uncertain about the health of Shepard and Robinson, both coming back from torn ACLs. It is possible that one or both could begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
Big Blue View
Is Robinson Saquon Barkley insurance?
With training camp just days away, the New York Giants are shuffling their roster. In addition to adding veteran wide receiver Cole Beasley to the 90-man roster, the Giants on Friday announced the signing of running back James Robinson.
Robinson, 5-foot-9, 219 pounds, went undrafted out of Illinois State. He made the Jacksonville Jaguars roster in 2020, and burst on the scene by gaining 1,070 yards rushing in 14 games, averaging 4.5 yards on 240 carries. He had 767 yards on 164 carries, a 4.7 yards per carry average, in 2021.
Last season, though, Robinson was behind Travis Etienne on Jacksonville’s depth chart. In seven games, he ran for 340 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 81 rushes. He was cut and landed with the New York Jets. In four games with the Jets, he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry, gaining only 85 yards on 29 rushing attempts.
Pro Football Network
Dallas Cowboys safety Malik Hooker is ready to build upon his success from last season, but will he be ready for camp after an offseason surgery?
It was announced in February that Hooker underwent surgery for a dislocated thumb after the season ended.
Hooker told PFN that he has not been cleared yet but has been doing offseason training to prepare for camp.
“It’s feeling great; it’s healthy. It’s not really a big deal. I played all last year with it, so it’s going good. I’m happy to have all of my fingers back,” said Hooker.
Training camp is still a week away, so it is to be determined if he gets fully cleared in time.
NFL league links
Without question, this was a victory for them and for long-suffering Commanders fans, who witnessed just six winning seasons and suffered through immeasurable embarrassment during Snyder’s two-plus decades as owner. But while the sale was cause for celebration inside and outside the organization, not everyone felt complete elation — most notably, some former employees who initially went public several years ago with claims of workplace misconduct.
“I don’t feel that justice has been served,” Melanie Coburn, a former team marketing employee and cheerleader, told me by phone. “I don’t feel that true transparency and accountability have taken place.”
Added Megan Imbert, a former team broadcast employee: “I don’t feel like today is necessarily closure.”
The reason is, the NFL appears to be taking a victory lap despite the finish line being on the distant horizon. It almost seemed to be patting itself on the back Thursday when it announced it had fined Snyder $60 million for workplace misconduct following former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White’s investigation into claims of sexual harassment — made by Tiffani Johnston, a former team marketing employee — and financial improprieties related to underreported revenues, made by Jason Friedman, a former VP of ticket sales and services.
That is why Thursday’s sale does not bring closure.
If this is what the NFL is willing to publicly release, one can only imagine the misconduct documented in Beth Wilkinson’s investigation — the full findings of which remain hidden from the public to this day. They should be released. https://t.co/FcISzdcIQC— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) July 21, 2023
Who is going No. 1 overall in the 2024 NFL draft? The early favorites are a pair of quarterbacks, but a lot can change in nine months. Let’s predict which top prospect will ultimately be first off the board next April.
The race looks similar to the 2023 class, with QBs leading the way. Bryce Young ended up becoming the 17th signal-caller to be selected first overall since 2000 when the Panthers took him after trading up to the top spot ahead of the draft. Quarterback has indeed dominated the top of the draft, but defensive end (five) and offensive tackle (two) have also produced No. 1 selections over the past 25 classes. Those two positions have a few prospects who could get in the mix this year, too.
To get a sense of the 2024 race, let’s take a run through the most likely candidates to go No. 1, including why each could make the leap and a way-too-early projected percentage chance for each to land at the top of the board.
A new era kicked off Friday in Washington, D.C. with the introduction of the team’s new ownership group.
Judging by the fan turnout and the message from Josh Harris and NBA legend Magic Johnson, who is part of the new ownership group, both groups can’t wait to get started.
“Washington fans are passionate. I knew that because I grew up here. The reaction has been overwhelming,” Harris said during his introductory press conference following the NFL’s approval of the Washington sale on Thursday from former owner Dan Snyder to the Harris group.
“We’re so appreciative of how welcomed we are. We also know — cause we’ve done this before in Philly — that we’ve got to deliver. The fans should be aware, and you should be aware there’s a lot of sleepless nights.
“This has been an amazing day for me, but I’m stressed. Training camp is next week and the first game is six weeks away. We’ve got a lot to do; we’ve got to get the team ready to win football games, we’ve got to get out in the community and start to pay it forward, as Magic (Johnson) said; we’ve got to change the stadium, right... I’m sorry — the fan experience — we’ve got to change the fan experience. ... Our three priorities are those, and that’s what we’re focused on right now.”
Pro Football Talk
What happens with the $60 million fine that Snyder was required to pay, as a result of the Mary Jo White investigation?
“The transaction just closed today and we haven’t finalized plans yet,” Chief NFL Spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email on Friday night.
We specifically had asked whether there would be restitution to other teams for the money the Commanders diverted from the Visiting Team Share, or whether the money would be donated to charity, which usually happens in the event of fines.
“Could there be a charitable component?” McCarthy. “Yes, as we have done with previous matters.”
A source with general knowledge of the dynamics told PFT that some of the $60 million could be used to pay for the legal fees and other expenses that Snyder created.
⭐️ My Take for Bad Takes Week, which is an AWESOME take. ⭐️— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) July 21, 2023
The NFL should buy the @XFL2023 and @USFL, turn them into true minor leagues, move the former to Europe and make @TheRock their front man over there. All of which proves that I'm a genius.https://t.co/8jCBd4FBKK
Jaguars’ assistant strength and conditioning coach Kevin Maxen has become the first male coach in major American men's professional sports to publicly come out as gay, telling @outsports he didn't want to hide who he is any longer and to inspire others.https://t.co/wfRyIa6afq— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 21, 2023