While both Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta both have interest in buying the Washington Commanders from Daniel Snyder, their potential bidding war may not begin unless the 30 other NFL owners vote to remove Snyder beforehand. On Monday, the embattled Snyder and his legal team reportedly requested other NFL owners and the league "indemnify him against future legal liability and costs" if he moves forward with selling the Commanders, according to the Washington Post.
Snyder has reportedly threatened to sue the NFL and its owners if his request of indemnification isn't granted, leading to talks of simply voting him out of his ownership, per an anonymous source who spoke to the Washington Post. His demands have been labeled "ridiculous" and "absurd" by those sources. If Snyder refuses to sell, the other NFL owners would "definitely" move closer to voting Snyder out of his ownership, something that would have to be done by three-fourths of the league's owners.
On top of looking to absolve himself of any legal or financial issues stemming from his ownership, Snyder is additionally looking for the NFL to keep the results of the ongoing investigation into himself and the team's workplace environment confidential. This request flies in the face of the league's public statement that attorney Mary Jo White's investigation findings will be made public.
On Tuesday, some of the details of this investigation became known, and they center around alleged financial misconduct, according to ESPN. Snyder allegedly took a $55 million loan through the franchise without informing his minority owners and receiving their approval, which is critical because it came 16 months before buying out his minority partners, who had a combined 40% share of the franchise. This loan has reportedly been a key area of focus for federal prosecutors who are investigating financial misconduct.
A federal grand jury has issued subpoenas for a number of the team's financial documents, and the investigation is being spearheaded by the FBI and the IRS, per ESPN. During a closed-door arbitration, the Commanders' former minority owners requested that the NFL investigate Snyder's loan. However, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, whose signature was needed for the team to acquire new debt, and the NFL arbitrator who investigated the allegations of Snyder's financial wrongdoing did not dig into the financial misconduct, according to league arbitration documents acquired by ESPN. Lines of credit and loans acquired without consent from the Commanders' board of directors are in violation of Washington's ownership agreements.
"Three billionaires -- not a few whistleblowers -- alleged to the NFL arbitrator that their partner had possibly committed bank fraud," the source said via ESPN. "This is jail time type of fraud. The NFL owes them as much of a fair shake as it owes Snyder. And the league had no interest in finding out what happened. They buried it and didn't investigate it and covered it up."
Documents acquired by ESPN reveal that minority team owners Dwight Schar, Frederick W. Smith, and Robert Rothman, disapproved of the loan after they found it in a financial report's fine print. They then allegedly discovered Snyder was using the Commanders as his "personal piggy bank," including charging the team $4.5 million to put its logo on his private jet, they said in the arbitration petition filed with the league. Snyder was also using the practice of paying himself $10 million in salary to lease his private jets to the team. The minority partners had a significant issue with the $4.5 million fee because they said the team's logo on Snyder's plane "provides little or no advertising value." To make matters worse, Snyder paid himself millions for the team's usage of his planes without his minority owners' approval, something that should have been part of that process.
John Brownlee, the Washington Commanders' attorney, and the team's public relations staff did not provide a comment on questions from ESPN regarding the $55 million loan.
"The team has been fully cooperating with the Eastern District of Virginia since it received a request for records last year," Brownlee said in a statement to ESPN. "The requested records only relate to customer security deposits and the team's ticket sales and revenue. The team will continue to cooperate with this investigation."
A U.S. Attorney's Office representative for the Eastern District of Virginia opted not to comment or provide a statement on ESPN's reporting.
The NFL also declined ESPN's request to interview Roger Goodell about the latest alleged Snyder misdeeds. The league did provide a statement instead.
"The parties had a series of disputes, which were certified to the Commissioner for arbitration as required by league rules," NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy said via a statement provided to ESPN. The Commissioner appointed a highly-respected attorney as the arbitrator and none of the parties objected to that appointment.
"After several months, the parties were asked if they would be interested in participating in a confidential mediation with the Commissioner, which they agreed to do. The mediation lasted for two days and the parties subsequently reached an agreement whereby the three limited partners sold all of their interests in the team to Mr. Snyder at an agreed-upon price and other terms. Everyone was represented by very sophisticated legal and financial advisors. The agreement included full releases of all claims that were or could have been asserted by any party in the arbitration proceeding."
McCarthy declined to answer additional questions about ESPN's reporting including if the NFL has received subpoenas about the criminal investigation about Snyder's financial misconduct that is being spearheaded by the FBI and IRS.
According to the Washington Post's sources, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the NFL's most influential owners, is trying to negotiate a peace agreement where Snyder would sell the Commanders and exit the league without any further issues. Jones has stood up for Snyder during past controversies.
Goodell was reportedly upset with Snyder's indemnification demand, according to the Washington Post. The league and owners are willing to go to court with Snyder if they have to, per their source, but they would like for Jones to convince Snyder to accept a record-breaking sale of his team and depart the NFL without a legal battle. Owners reportedly think any vote they might undergo to remove Snyder would stand in court, according the Post's source.
A vote to remove an owner has never occurred. Former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson sold the franchise to David Tepper in 2018 after an NFL investigation of allegations into workplace misconduct. That investigation, also led by White, concluded there was no information to discredit the claims made against Richardson. The league fined Richardson $2.75 million.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said in October that "there's merit to remove him [Snyder] as owner of [the Commanders]." The current investigation of Snyder and the Commanders' workplace environment began in February of 2022 after a former cheerleader and marketing manager said Snyder harassed her at a team dinner by "putting his hand on her thigh and pressing her toward his limo." Snyder denied the allegation, calling it "outright lies."
Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris is also interested in buying the Washington Commanders in addition to Bezos and Fertitta.
The Washington Commanders issued the following statement: "The story posted tonight by the Washington Post regarding the transaction process involving the Washington Commanders is simply untrue."
The Dallas Cowboy and the NFL declined to comment on the Post's reporting on Monday.