For years, Dan Snyder caused maximum chaos for the Washington Commanders, and months after agreeing to sell his team, he’s still a reliable source of drama. If the NFL can’t convince its franchises to willingly submit to HBO’s Hard Knocks anymore, maybe the league needs to open its own kimono. Transparency is the best cleanser. It’s the perfect series finale. What’s the most dysfunctional unit in all of the NFL? It’s not the Commanders anymore. It’s the team stationed inside the NFL’s headquarters. Just check out what ESPN’s report reveals was going on behind the scenes within the NFL’s executive branch.
As independent investigator Beth Wilkinson dug into the most toxic workplace since Chernobyl, Snyder did what he does best. According to an ESPN report by Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, the former Commanders owner staved off his reckoning by preparing a blackmail Powerpoint presentation.
Among the accusations that ESPN’s sources made were that Roger Goodell and NFL execs allegedly approved the release of some of the Jon Gruden emails while four owners told them that Goodell was personally involved. NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith told others he was responsible for leaking the racist email about the size of his lips on the day the union voted to retain him as their chief.
In June 2021, Snyder’s legal team met with a select group of legal execs at NFL headquarters. At that meeting, Snyder’s defense attorney Joe Taocopina arrived with a novel strategy. Instead of presenting his defense against any of the accusations being levied against him by Wilkinson’s finding, Tacopina and his Reed Smith partners began showing a series of slides displaying screenshots of potentially embarrassing emails and texts from several top league execs including Jeff Pash, the NFL’s general counsel, who was once a candidate to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner.
The stated goal of Snyder’s team was to outline the NFL’s hypocrisy, but the implicit message was that if Goodell didn’t handle Wilkinson’s dissection of the Commanders’ organization the way Snyder wanted, those messages would see the light of day.
Snyder hiring Trump’s attorney to deliver some good ol’ blackmail is extremely on-brand considering Snyder’s reputation as a tinpot dictator running the Commanders organization into the ground. Following the meeting, league execs backed off of their punishments of Snyder and by late June, Snyder and his lawyers were collaborating with NFL executives in the drafting of news releases. Snyder had the survival skills of a cockroach towards the end of his reign as the Washington Commanders owner.
Blackmail only works if the material you’ve gathered is embarrassing enough to shame the targets into shushing instead of calling the authorities and having them get you fitted for a jumpsuit. Snyder was confident enough to get his lawyers to do it in broad daylight and still didn’t catch any backlash.
Instead, after Snyder’s lawyers allegedly presented his blackmail research to the NFL in the most villainous way possible, they complied. Reportedly, they even sacrificed Gruden at the altar to protect Snyder and by proxy, their own necks. ESPN’s report also outlined a phone call in which the Commissioner pressured Mark Davis to fire Gruden while revealing he was aware of those emails for months.
If it weren’t for Congress and vivid reporting, Snyder would probably still be clutching onto the Commanders. In October of 2022, right before the Commanders took part in a Thursday Night Football contest streaming on Amazon, anonymous owners leaked vague details of Snyder’s alleged blackmail.
And yet, according to Van Natta and Wickersham, the league’s execs are still pointing at each other like the remaining survivors in a game of Clue. The one thing that stands out throughout the Snyder piece is how feckless the league office and Goodell were and how paranoid Snyder was towards the end.
Hard Knocks is already getting stale NFL HQ sounds like The Office meets ESPN’s Playmakers. A behind-the-scenes portrait of Goodell’s bumbling managerial style is a perfect ending. Goodell isn’t the boss, he’s the punching bag for 32 owners and Snyder running a pseudo-blackmail PowerPoint in league offices and suffering no repercussions makes that painfully clear.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex