- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2023

If recent history is any indication, Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder won’t be in attendance at next week’s NFL owners meetings. The embattled billionaire has skipped the gatherings for almost two years, since the league handed down a $10 million fine to his team over a workplace sexual harassment scandal. Snyder’s wife has represented the Commanders in her husband’s place. 

Whether he’s there or not, though, Snyder is sure to be the center of attention when the meetings begin Sunday in Phoenix.

Since November, when the Commanders announced that Snyder had hired an investment bank to explore a potential sale of the team, the gathering in Phoenix has been circled on the calendar — with the expectation in some quarters that a sale agreement would be in place by now and the league’s owners would approve the deal and close the book on the Snyder era in Washington.

That hasn’t happened. The sale of the Commanders is reportedly not on next week’s official agenda. And while that doesn’t preclude owners from talking about the team in a privileged closed session, multiple reports have indicated that May’s meetings could be a more realistic target for Washington’s next owner to be finalized. 

And yet, rumors continue to swirl — with prospective candidates, both old and new, coming to the fore. Just this week, reports emerged that NBA legend Magic Johnson joined Josh Harris’ group looking to buy the Commanders. And Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos is in the mix, too. Even Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who’d been barred, reportedly, from the bidding, is still in the picture.

Fox Business reported that people close to Snyder “say he isn’t opposed to Jeff Bezos placing a bid in” for the Commanders and “they have communicated that to Bezos’ people.” Though Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post was seen as an obstacle in the Amazon founder’s pursuit of the franchise because of the paper’s dogged reporting on Snyder and the team’s workplace problems, the network added that the issues have been “overblown.” 

All along, Bezos has loomed as a suitor who could possibly come in at the last minute and top all other offers because of his vast personal wealth. But it’s unclear if Thursday’s report is an attempt from Snyder’s camp to draw out an offer from Bezos — who reportedly hasn’t submitted a bid — or an attempt to goad the other interested parties into sweetening their bids.

Harris, the managing principal owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, has been the most oft-mentioned potential buyer — a January report from NBC Sports Washington called him the non-Bezos front-runner. 

The Washington Times’ Thom Loverro reported that Harris and his group are “on the verge” of becoming the next owners of the Commanders. Harris has also appeared to strengthen his bid in recent months by adding Maryland billionaire Mitchell Rales to his group, in addition to Johnson. 

Harris, too, already has ties to the NFL community. He was not only vetted during last year’s pursuit of the Denver Broncos, but he also owns a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers — something that, coincidentally, has led to owning an NFL team for other billionaires. 

Carolina Panthers owners David Tepper and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam were both minority owners for the Steelers before buying their respective teams. Harris and his business partner, David Blitzer, purchased less than a 5% stake in the Steelers in 2020. If Harris buys the Commanders, he would have to sell his Steelers shares — though that can be done afterward.

Until further word, Snyder remains the owner of the Commanders. But he has reportedly cleared out his office at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn and now lives in London, where the big franchise-for-sale story revolves around Manchester United, not the uncertain fate of Washington’s NFL franchise. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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