Column: A Washingtonian’s plea to new Commanders ownership

Commanders Sale Football
A group led by Josh Harris and Mitchell Rales that includes Magic Johnson has an agreement in principle to buy the NFL’s Washington Commanders from longtime owner Dan Snyder for a North American professional sports team record $6.05 billion. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

To Josh Harris, the new owner of the Washington Commanders,

Congrats on the record-purchase of a storied NFL franchise for $6.05 billion. This is absolutely a big deal, both literally and figuratively, and one that automatically makes you one of the most famous people in the nation’s capital.

But let your celebration be brief because there’s so much work to be done.

Many will turn your attention to a new stadium as folks like me will even put under-the-radar tasks like building a new state-of-the-art training facility on your to-do list.

But your tallest task will be enticing fans — those that departed and a legion of young, newcomers alike — to proudly don Burgundy and Gold again.

I said a tearful goodbye to this franchise long ago, and you wouldn’t believe how much therapy it took to reach a Good Will Hunting-like breakthrough that these two-plus decades of misery weren’t my fault. There are millions of stories like mine in these parts.

I write to you to tell you what it would take to win these people back. Damn near all of them.

Be present

Your predecessor — whose name I won’t even mention in this space out of disgust for him — spent much of his treacherous reign hiding in his ivory tower (or, more accurately, his ivory yacht). For at least the first two years of your stewardship, we need to hear from you. What’s your vision for the franchise? How involved will you be in the day-to-day operation? To what extent will your interests in other franchises (the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers) limit your involvement with the Commanders?

I’m not saying go overboard and hold court in the postgame locker room every week like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, but it’s also not enough to simply say you’re different from the last guy. We need to see you and hear you in the community, reconnecting it with this franchise in a meaningful way.

Show us you know your role

Maybe this is the romantic optimist in me, but a fast way to win this city back is by demonstrating, in word and deed, that you understand the Washington Commanders should not be a toy to be played with by billionaires.

This franchise, for better and worse, has a deep history. It existed for nine decades before you and will likely exist for many decades after you. At least two of your predecessors are considered vile and/or racist, which highlights the importance of recognizing yourself more as a steward of the franchise than an owner would make your approval rating damn near 100%. Talk to Magic Johnson about that.

Secure a new home(s)

The need for a new state-of-the-art stadium has been discussed ad nauseam (yes, even by us in the D.C. Sports Huddle) so I’ll operate under the assumption you’re aware this will need to be one of your first orders of business.

But the underrated and under-discussed task is gracing this franchise with a first-class training facility. If you did, in fact, toured the facilities before this purchase, specifically the building in Ashburn that looks like a throwback to the 1970s and not in a charming, Tom Selleck kind of way, but more like a Don Knotts in The Apple Dumpling Gang kind of way.

No one would admit it publicly, but you can’t expect to sway millionaire free agent football players to Washington with that shabby setup. It’s vital to the competitive balance in the NFC East.

Have you seen the LSU locker room? Or the one at Alabama? Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are highly-paid NFL veterans that massively downsized from Tuscaloosa to D.C. I mean, really think about that.

Reward them, and the rest of the roster, for choosing to stay in Washington.

Be aggressive in adding the best possible pieces

You’re purchasing the only NFL team that hasn’t won 11 games in a season this millennium. The last playoff win happened in the 2005 season when your buddy Joe Gibbs was still coaching.

Ron Rivera is by every account a great person, but as a championship-caliber head coach, he ain’t it. And frankly, anyone who has aligned themselves with the previous owner should follow him out the door in Ashburn.

The last owner was a cancer. The only way to ensure it’s completely gone is to eradicate both it and anything it’s touched. You already have team president Jason Wright as your bridge from what the franchise was to what it hopes to be. So anyone else in a relevant leadership role under Snyder either needs to be gone or, at the very least, thoroughly examined.

Rivera should be commended for the job he’s done bringing respectability to this franchise during a tumultuous time. However, he’s demonstrated over 12 seasons in Washington and Carolina that he can’t lift a franchise to championship heights. It’s absolutely worth asking the Steelers if perhaps a draft pick or two would be enough to pry Mike Tomlin out of Pittsburgh. Now that the previous owner is gone, the main obstacle between Washington and perennial contention is a proven winner at coach and quarterback. Spare no expense in landing both.

We’re counting on you. Washington is better when Burgundy and Gold means something. So is the NFL. I recognize how big an ask this is and you will be covered fairly with that in mind.

But — as I would imagine any billionaire would know — anything worth doing is hard. So this should be well within your means.

Godspeed and thank you for ending Washington’s long nightmare. — Rob

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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