NFC East Reporter
The news that Josh Harris and his group had reached an agreement to finally buy the Washington Commanders last week might have been the most unifying event in the nation’s capital in decades. It marked the beginning of the end for Dan Synder’s Reign of Terrible and gave hope that the struggling football franchise is headed for better days.
Not immediately, of course. The league has yet to complete its review of the record $6.05 billion sale to Harris and his group that includes heavyweight investors like Mitch Rales, David Blitzer and Magic Johnson, and NFL owners have yet to vote- there They may also have to delicately negotiate the exit of several investigations still into Snyder and the toxic workplace he built.
When this is all over, and it will likely be at the start of the 2023 NFL season, fans can really start to look toward a brighter future for a franchise that went 164-220-2 and went in the playoffs just six times at Snyder’s. 24 years at the helm. It won’t be easy for the new bosses to restore the luster of this once proud franchise, and it probably won’t happen quickly.
But there is a path back to glory if they do it the right way. So here’s a look at some of the items that should be at the top of the new property’s long to-do list:
Decide who is in charge of the football operation
If the ultimate goal is to rebuild a winning franchise, this will be the most important decision the new owners will make.
Right now, Ron Rivera is at the helm, as he has been since 2020. Martin Mayhew was brought in a year later, but the head coach calls the football shots. Is this the structure Harris wants? And these are the people you want to take care of? He almost certainly won’t make any changes now. But at the end of the season he has to make a decision and a commitment.
Rivera, 61, has been a respected and steady hand in a sinking ship in a sea of turmoil. But their 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, one could argue that the drive is a miracle given Snyder’s impact and long-standing 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 the same day the sale closed. But when he bought the New Jersey Devils in 2013, he kept GM Lou Lamoriello for two more years.
At the end of the 2023 season, Harris must decide who he wants to lead the Chiefs for the next five years.
Once these people are in place, don’t meddle; focus on business
The worst thing a team owner can do is get in the way of the people running the sports side of their business. This almost always leads to terrible decisions. Ask anyone who has worked for Snyder over the past 24 years.
The good news is that Harris has no reputation for being an intruder. Also, as the owner of three professional sports teams, he probably doesn’t have time to get intricately involved in day-to-day decisions.
And in the past, he has sounded like an owner who knows his rightful place.
“I would like to keep visibility on [the general manager and CEO]but don’t be invisible,” he told NJ.com after his first year as Devils owner. “The biggest job I have as an owner is to pick the two guys next to me and then provide the resources and make them responsible .”
This is the right approach. But he can certainly be more hands-on in the business side of the operation, whether it’s with team president Jason Wright running things or someone else. There have been many unhappy and paranoid employees working there, including longtime survivors of what many have described as a toxic culture during Snyder’s reign.
Harris must rebuild the confidence of these employees, make their workplace more pleasant and more efficient. There will surely be major changes in personnel and structure. But that’s much more Harris’ area than picking who should be the next quarterback.
Get to work in 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 capacity and structure, to maintenance failures, to poor location. He is only 26 years old, but he looks much older.
The Chiefs obviously and desperately need a new building (and a new practice facility, too) and appear to have plenty of options in Maryland, Virginia or even possibly DC at the site of the old RFK Stadium. There has been little movement on that front because, according to a team source, several local politicians did not want to deal with Snyder, and some believed they could not because of the uncertainty of whether the team would sell or the league i would do it force him out.
Some of them, however, are eager to deal with the new ownership. Harris should – and surely will – look to capitalize quickly. Surely he has already begun to lay the foundations.
Invest in the team (and not just paying the players)
The NFLPA player survey released in the fall that showed the Chiefs ranked last in the league in terms of facilities, treatment of players, their families and more should have been alarming, if they only cared about heads. They got horrible marks for everything from their tiny hot tubs, to tiny lockers, to poor drainage and lack of hot water in the showers, bad food, lack of space on flights the team, the obligation to have roommates on the road and on the trail. their families are treated.
Harris has been willing to spend whatever it takes with his other two teams and do whatever it takes to make the organizations attractive destinations for other players. He has a lot of work to do to get to this point in Washington, but he needs to improve the facilities and hire the right people to make life more comfortable for his players.
It’s the only way to convince good players that they have other options to come.
Reconnect with the history of the franchise
First, new owners are unlikely to rebrand the franchise. The name “Commanders” is probably here to stay. And they will certainly never go back to the previous name given its racist connotations. But that doesn’t mean the franchise can’t embrace its history much more than it has.
There are many former players who did not want to be a part of their old franchise while it was ruled by Snyder, and many no longer felt welcome. Snyder was even being sued by a group of former “Hogs,” the legendary offensive line that is as much a part of Washington football history as any other group.
The fans like to win more than anything, but history and tradition are secondary. Harris needs to welcome back all the old players. Honor them at games, invite them to training, have them speak more often with the team so they can connect with current players. There is too little presence around the franchise and its media operations.
This has to change. Because as Commanders move forward into what they hope will be a better future, they’ll 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 on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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