- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2023

PHOENIX — As the potential sale of the Washington Commanders has dragged along over the past few months, one of the seeming obstacles in a deal getting done is that the prospective candidates had yet to reach owner Dan Snyder’s asking price for the team.

That appears to be changing. 

Two potential buyers have reportedly submitted formal, fully funded bids each worth $6 billion for the Washington Commanders — matching what Snyder is thought to be seeking for the franchise. 

One of the bids, a source with knowledge of the situation said, was from a group led by Josh Harris — the owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils who has added Maryland billionaire Mitchell Rales and basketball legend Magic Johnson as partners to his bid for the franchise. The source said Tuesday that Harris has submitted a formal bid. ESPN reported the financial details of the offer.

The other, according to ESPN, is from Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos, who comes from a private equity and real estate background. 

Harris and Apostolopoulos have both been connected to the Commanders, but submitting a formal bid signifies a crucial step as Snyder explores the sales process. 

The news came as the league’s owners’ meetings in Arizona were set to conclude without a Commanders deal in place. 

ESPN reported that because of the bids, there is a “growing belief” that an agreement to sell the Commanders could be in place by next month’s NFL draft.

NFL owners, meanwhile, appear to have been left in the dark by Snyder and the Commanders.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Monday that he thinks a deal is “close to happening,” but noted he wasn’t entirely sure. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was skeptical that an agreement would be reached by the time owners next meet again in May. 

“The information is very little to none in terms of the 31 of us and really, probably even the league office,” Irsay said. “Right now, the sale process is being run by them.”

But the two $6 billion offers still caught some owners’ attention.

 “Those numbers are notable,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I could have never imagined when I first got involved in the NFL, that we would be talking these kinds of numbers.”

Irsay said he hopes Snyder would reach a deal that’s “normal and acceptable,” telling reporters that Snyder’s reported request for indemnification was a nonstarter for fellow owners. Snyder has reportedly asked for owners to cover any future legal costs as part of a sale, though the team has denied that is true. 

If Snyder accepts Harris’ $6 billion offer, the deal would set a record for a purchase of a professional sports team. That mark was set last year when the Denver Broncos were bought for $4.65 billion. Snyder, who has owned the team for 24 seasons, purchased the Washington Redskins in 1999 for $800 million. 

A Harris spokesperson and the Washington Commanders declined to comment. A spokesperson for Apostolopoulos did not return a request to comment. 

The Commanders have been on the market since at least November, when the team announced that Snyder hired an investment bank to explore “potential transactions” that included a possible sale. The announcement came amid a series of scandals for Snyder, who faced — and still faces — multiple investigations amid accusations of workplace misconduct.

In October, Irsay became the first owner to say there was “merit” to removing Snyder from the league. 

The NFL has yet to conclude its second investigation into Snyder and Washington being conducted by former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White. A source said Snyder has refused to cooperate with White’s probe. The team also faces a federal investigation from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during the meetings Tuesday that owners were updated briefly on the potential Commanders sale and White’s investigation.

Goodell maintained White’s report will become public when finished, even if Snyder sells.  He said wouldn’t speculate over Snyder‘s refusal to cooperate in White’s probe and wouldn’t speculate if the league would punish Snyder if he doesn’t agree to be interviewed.  He said it was up to White to determine whom she interviews, adding the league will allow her to do “her job” and go from there. 

“When there’s a transaction, they will notify us,” Goodell said of a potential Commanders sale. 

Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys who represent more than 40 former Washington employees, said in a statement Tuesday that they want White’s investigation to conclude and for the NFL to release a written report “without further delay.”  Snyder, they said, “should not be permitted to continue dictating the timing of release of this report.”

“Our clients are pleased to read press accounts suggesting that the tyranny of Dan Snyder‘s ownership of the Commanders could be closer to an end,” Banks and Katz said. “However, allowing him to sell the team at what will certainly be a large premium without full accountability for his misconduct would be a travesty of justice.” 

Snyder’s exploration of a sale, meanwhile, seems to have created a holding pattern around the Commanders. 

Though the team has had a busy offseason — hiring offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, re-signing Daron Payne and being active in free agency — Rivera admitted Tuesday that they’re now at the point “we’ve got to kind of drag our feet a little bit” and wait to see whether the team will have new ownership before making big roster decisions like picking up Chase Young’s $17 million fifth-year option. 

The Commanders have until May 1 to decide on Young’s option — but Rivera said he doesn’t know if he’ll have a new boss by then.

“The big part of it too is we don’t know what the new ownership wants,” Rivera said. “And so who knows what that process may be when we get close to the May [1] deadline. So we have to kind of wait a little bit until then, or at least close to it before we can do something.”

Rivera also said that he has briefly met one of the groups that have toured the Commanders’ facility in Ashburn, Virginia. Reports indicate that Harris, Apostolopoulos and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta are among the prospective bidders to visit the team’s headquarters. Rivera declined to name which group he ran into. 

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Snyder planned to accept any of the formal offers on the table. Snyder’s asking price has seemed to shift throughout the process — with early reports indicating that the embattled billionaire wanted $7 billion for the franchise, while that number later changed to $6 billion. 

If he accepts any deal, Snyder would need to submit the buyer to the NFL to receive formal approval. That buyer must undergo necessary background work that can take up to a month to complete, Irsay said. 

In Harris’ case, the league has already vetted the billionaire as he pursued the Denver Broncos last year and is also a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

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

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