The question most often asked now regarding the possible sale of the Washington Commanders is not if, but when. Details in the team’s recently signed player contracts may provide the answer.
Historically, it has been common practice across all 32 NFL teams to pay at least a portion of major signing bonuses within 15 to 30 days of the transaction date. This cycle, the commanders have extended the payout date by two months, according to multiple sources who have seen the contracts executed.
That date? May 12, 2023, according to people who have seen the contract for defensive tackle Daron Payne and another recently signed free agent. Those and other people involved in or familiar with NFL contracts suggested The athletic that this unusual aspect makes sense when coupled with the expected expiration date of owner Dan Snyder’s franchise.
May 12 is two months after Payne, Washington’s 2022 resignation leader, signed a four-year, $90 million contract with a $28 million signing bonus. That delayed timeline not only differs from the industry standard, but is significantly longer than the payout structure used in previous overtimes for wide receiver Terry McLaurin (2022), defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (2021) and former Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams (2016).
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These people who spoke with The athleticincluding a former Washington front office worker familiar with the team’s historical approach to contracts, were given anonymity for their candor and insight.
“Compared to their previous contract precedents, it appears they deliberately delayed the first term of their signing bonuses,” said the former front office worker. “Very likely it has to do with the expected timeline of a sale. … I think the payout dates are pretty telling.
Another person who looked at the Payne contract said, “It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
The March 26-29 NFL owner meetings in Phoenix have long been seen as the first possible time on the league’s calendar when concrete sales news could occur. Regardless, Snyder’s control of the franchise he co-owns with Tanya Snyder, his wife, will be a major topic.
If there is no sale, the other owners – with input from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell – may decide to remove Snyder if 24 of 31 owners vote in favour. Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters at the October meeting that “could possibly happen”.
On November 2, the Snijders announced they would hire Bank of America Securities to “consider potential transactions.”
The same bonus payment date of May 12 is also in the one-year contract signed Wednesday by free agent quarterback Jacoby Brissett, according to a person who reviewed the executed contract. Brissett’s $8 million guarantee includes a $4.5 million signing bonus.
Since 2020, Dan Snyder has been the subject of several investigations and news reports regarding sexual harassment and possible financial irregularities within the organization. This includes an ongoing 13-month investigation into Snyder’s actions by attorney and NFL appointee Mary Jo White. However, Snyder’s financial considerations are believed to be a driving – if not the guiding – factor in sales of the franchise he’s owned since 1999.
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The NFL approved a $450 million debt forgiveness in March 2021 for Snyder to buy the 40.5 percent of the franchise owned by his three minority partners for $875 million. ESPN reported last month that federal prosecutors were investigating Snyder and the commanders for bank fraud after his now-former partners alleged that Snyder took out a $55 million line of credit without their approval.
Sales of the historic NFL franchise are expected to surpass last year’s $4.65 billion purchase of the Denver Broncos, the record price paid for a North American sports franchise.
Snyder’s financial considerations and the looming potential sale fueled speculation as to whether the owner would approve contracts with significant upfront payments during this transaction period. Washington has recruited Payne and several outside free agents this week, but the deferred bonus payments would become the responsibility of the team’s owner on May 12 if a sale occurs before then.
The number of installments in NFL signing bonuses can differ between “cash-rich” and “cash-poor” teams, but usually within 15 to 30 days after the contract becomes official. Payne’s $28 million bonus payout comes in three installments: $7 million on May 12, $9 million on September 15, and $12 million on April 1, 2024.
The athletic reviewed the components of the payout calendar structure of contracts for McLaurin, Allen and Williams. They also show that payouts were spread out over time, but all fell within the standard timeline.
Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection for Washington in the 2010s and now a star for the 49ers, signed a five-year, $66 million extension in 2015 that included an $8.5 million signing bonus. The contract stated that $6.25 million would be paid “within 15 days (after execution and approval by the NFL Management Board).”
Allen, Payne’s in-house tag team partner on Washington’s defensive line, signed for four years and $72 million — with a $30 million signing bonus — hours before the team opened training camp in July 2021. The first of two $15 million payouts had a 21-day deadline from the contract execution date. The other $15 million was due in April.
McLaurin signed a three-year, $68.2 million extension last July. The agreement states that the eight-figure initial payment “must be paid…within 28 days of contract execution.” Four additional installments of varying amounts, including another eight-figure payout in April, will end on April 1, 2024.
Multiple potential bidders have been exploring the option of purchasing the franchise, including a group led by Josh Harris, owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Billionaire businessman and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has also expressed interest.
The wild card is Jeff Bezos. The founder of Amazon has partnered with investment bank Allen & Co. while contemplating his interest, even though he was excluded from the bidding process.
(Photo by Dan Snyder: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images