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Sunday, November 29, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington Football Team fans are excited about their squad’s 41-16 beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, and well they should be. It was the best this team has looked all season, and it was a thorough defeat, in every way, of a very willing participant.

The prize, for some Washington fans, is for this team to somehow wind up with a division title and a playoff game — however warped the journey may be to get there. How many times, after all, do you get to celebrate the 5-11 or 6-10 record that will likely be good enough to capture the NFC East?


It’s why some, while enjoying the Cowboys’ win, are conflicted. Every Washington win — four of them in 11 games so far — takes this team one step further away from a top draft pick and a chance at an elite-level quarterback.

For some Washington fans, that’s the only real reward up for grabs this season.

They have a point. If we have learned anything about today’s NFL, it is if you don’t have a franchise quarterback, you are a long way from success, no matter how many first-round draft picks you have on defense. And Washington does not have a franchise quarterback on its roster, not withstanding the momentary success of Alex Smith and the notetaking of last year’s No. 1 pick, Dwayne Haskins (“We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about how to take notes” – quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese.)

In the end, though. the future of this franchise isn’t riding on a trip to the postseason or a next spring’s draft position. It’s riding on the results of the investigation that attorney Beth Wilkinson is conducting into the sexual harassment allegations inside the organization.

The Wilkinson report could be this generation of Washington Football fans’ version of the Lombardi Trophy.

If somehow, the Wilkinson probe ends up forcing out owner Dan Snyder, it would be worth many NFC East titles and numerous top draft picks.

It’s been nearly five months since Snyder hired Wilkinson to look into the Washington Post’s explosive report on sexual harassment charges lodged by former employees.

As the scandal grew, the NFL took over supervision of the investigation, though I suspect the league had been calling the shots all along.

Wilkinson’s report, which could surface any day, will go a long way toward determining the next 50 years for the franchise, including whether the team plays in the District, Maryland or Virginia.

“Any stadium talks are on hold,” one District political insider told me. “We don’t know who will own the team.”

A new owner would likely energize the stadium location conversation, even though there would remain significant hurdles. After all, Jack Kent Cooke had three Super Bowls in his pocket, and, after failing to get a new stadium in the District and northern Virginia, wound up where the team plays now in Lanham.

It’s a conversation that could use a jumpstart.

In addition to the stadium impasse, Snyder is juggling multiple legal battles, including one with his minority owners suing over the sale of their shares. The NFL does not like this sort of internal dispute playing out publicly, and The Athletic reported that the league has filed to intervene in the lawsuit. They can’t be happy about Snyder’s dirty laundry being hung out in public.

One of Snyder’s more bizarre legal entanglements involves his defamation lawsuit against an India-based website that published allegations without evidence connecting the owner to the late millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with sex trafficking underage girls and died in jail last year.

Snyder contends those articles were part of a smear campaign by one of Snyder’s minority partners, Dwight Schar, and his lawyers have somehow made some connections seeking testimony of the wife of former Washington Football general manager Scot McCloughan and Maryland investment banker John Moag in the case, which looks more like a sequel to “The Usual Suspects” with every legal motion that is filed by Snyder’s lawyers.

Moag is a former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and was instrumental in the move by the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. He oversaw construction of the Ocean City Convention Center and was chairman of Baltimore’s 2012 Olympic bid. He has been one of the most respected public figures in the state, with a lot of political capital — not the kind of enemy you want if you are trying to get a stadium built in Maryland.

In response to a demand from Snyder’s lawyer for Moag’s electronic records, Moag’s lawyers responded, “the court can take judicial notice of the huge array of negative publicity, hundreds, if not thousands of publications relating to Plaintiff, including in many of the best-known newspapers … publicity that has nothing to do with the very specific allegations set forth in the Indian lawsuit,” according to The Athletic.

Ouch — a response that suggests Snyder is such damaged goods publicly he may be immune to defamation.

League owners do not typically get rid of their own, for fear of “there but for the grace of God go I,” but the Wilkinson investigation, the ownership in-fighting and the years of incompetence that have crippled what was once a premier NFL franchise have taken a toll.

Getting a new, more profitable stadium built — one that sets secures the future of a franchise for decades to come — is often seen as an owner’s primary job. If the other powerbrokers in the NFL conclude Snyder’s presence as owner is the roadblock, they may deliver to Washington fans their newest Lombardi Trophy.

Hear Thom Loverro Wednesday afternoons on 106.7 The Fan and Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Kevin Sheehan Show Podcast.


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