- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 29, 2021

RICHMOND — As he stood outside of a recreation center Thursday, Mayor Levar Stoney did what he’d rarely done over the past few years: He openly praised the Washington Football Team. The city’s relationship with the NFL franchise, he said, went from “adversarial” to a point in which he was now openly advocating for the team to extend its stay in the city. 

After its initial eight-year contract expired in 2020, Washington and the City of Richmond agreed to a one-year deal that put the Burgundy-and-Gold back in town for five days (Tuesday through Saturday) of training camp. 

But now as the team’s trip winds down, Stoney said Thursday he’s “bullish” that Washington will continue to hold its summer practices in the city and would work to make that happen. 

Team president Jason Wright, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as committal, telling reporters that finding next year’s home for training camp hasn’t “broken through the priority list just yet,” though says the team is willing to have a conversation. 

“It’s a priority for us,” Stoney said. “We know that the residents of the great city of Richmond love having the Washington Football Team in town. And with this new regime in charge over the Washington Football Team, I believe there are great things to come.” 

Wright suggested there were ways that the team could have an impact on the city, even if practice wasn’t held there.

“We are actively thinking about how we have a presence everywhere in the region where our fans are,” Wright said. “And that can be in community partnerships like this. That can mean physical presence like our training facility and things like that. But I know that this area is one where we’ll have a fundamental partnership going forward in some way shape or form.”

Both men made their remarks from the Hotchkiss Field Community Center, a facility that Washington pledged to renovate with a $75,000 investment from the team’s charitable foundation. The money will go toward upgrading the center’s playground area and other amenities. 

So what changed? After all, it was only a few years ago when Stoney and other city officials were unhappy with Washington over the $500,000 that the city paid annually to the team. “To me, if you’re one of the wealthiest teams in the world, there’s no reason for the city of Richmond to be paying a cash contribution to the team,” Stoney said in 2018. 

The terms of the contract have changed since then. Even before the original deal expired, the team and the city reached an agreement for the financial contribution to be dropped in April 2020. Washington did not report to Richmond for camp because of the pandemic, and when the one-year deal was negotiated this year, both sides agreed the clause would still be eliminated.

Instead, Washington is the one who pays the city, according to the mayor’s spokesman: The franchise paid $100,000 for a five-day stay. 

Stoney credited the change in leadership for making it happen. The old deal was made under former team president Bruce Allen and the current one was made under Wright.

“People and personnel matter,” Stoney said. “In my line of work, personnel equals policy because these are the people that are going to dictate the culture and the way the organization will act. And with Jason Wright and coach (Ron) Rivera, I’ve seen a night-and-day change with how they’ve gone about embracing Richmond.”

Stoney said he feels “the love” from Washington. He said he would not negotiate through the press, but added he would like for the team to stay longer than just five days. In the past, the team stayed for roughly two weeks before heading back to Ashburn. 

Stoney said they will continue to talk with Washington, noting communication was “a lot tougher” under the old regime. 

“A lot of Richmond residents felt like we were taken advantage of by one of the wealthiest affluent teams in the whole entire world,” Stoney said. “So now that that’s different — that Richmond is the recipient of dollars instead of us giving dollars — shows that they value the relationship they have here, they value the fans, as well.”

Wright said the team’s training camp home would be what’s best for Rivera and his players.  This is Rivera’s first extended stay in the city, though his team traveled when he was coach of the Carolina Panthers. 

Washington is also in the hunt for a new stadium, in which it could be possible that a new practice facility is built alongside it — mirroring other setups around the league like Dallas and New York (Giants). 

“We’ll get there when we get there,” Wright said of determining the future location of training camp. “We have a few other ticking time things going on right now.” 

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