A new era in D.C.: For better or worse

Josh Harris Commanders purchase brings an end to disastrous Snyder’s reign

On March 23, I had the opportunity to write an article detailing the disaster that was the Washington Commanders’ history under Dan Snyder. In that article, I highlighted Snyder’s failures within the last few years, including his horrific mismanagement of the team, his numerous allegations of a poor work environment and a blatant disregard for stadium maintenance that left FedEx Field in shambles. A month after the original article, the bad man is finally gone.

On April 13, Snyder finally sold the team, ending a 24-year run as owner of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises from 1999 to 2023. Before that ‘99 season, the team was a regular playoff contender — appearing in four Super Bowls and winning three under legendary head coach (and NASCAR team owner) Joe Gibbs. After making the playoffs in 1999, Washington would only see the postseason in five years from 2000 to 2023. This is worst in the NFC East by a landslide, as even the Cowboys (nine postseasons since 2000), Giants (nine) and Eagles (15) have seen more success.

Of those five postseason appearances, only three came from division titles. Their three division titles in the new millennium put them well behind the teams as mentioned earlier (Dallas with six, New York with four and Philadelphia with 10) and showcase the downfall of Washington. Where there was once a significant contender for titles, Washington floundered under Snyder to near-laughable levels of failure.

After running Washington into the ground, Snyder made the deal of a lifetime — selling the Commanders for a whopping $6.05 billion, making it the largest sports franchise transaction in history.

The new owner, Josh Harris, is no stranger to sports ownership, already owning multiple ventures in several sports. Harris holds a small stake in England’s Crystal Palace F.C. and has total ownership over the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils franchises. As an owner, Harris has had a mixed bag of successes and failures, particularly in the form of Philadelphia.

When Harris purchased the team in 2011, they were coming from a first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls. After a playoff appearance in the 2011-12 season, the team imploded, beginning what’s known today as “The Process.” The team started a long process of tanking, finishing at the bottom of the Atlantic Conference twice in four years as they struggled to get much of anything in terms of consistency and flow.

The team traded off star players in exchange for picks and young future superstars, opting for future players like Joel Embiid. Since the 2017-18 season, the 76ers haven’t missed the playoffs yet, though they haven’t gotten over the hump of the Conference Semifinals. Still, such sustained success gives hope to Washington fans that, perhaps, Harris could motivate their team to get out of the bottom of the East.

On the flip side of Harris’s coin is the side that gives Washington fans anxiety. After Harris purchased the 76ers in 2011, he pushed to make another purchase in the northeast: the New Jersey Devils of the NHL. Harris bought the Devils in 2013 for over $300 million — far less than he would pay for the Commanders in 2023. The purchase saw little initial success as the team flipped through years of mediocrity. Winning seasons would be followed by losing seasons, which flipped back and forth like a pendulum.

These losing seasons weren’t particularly dismal by any stretch, as the team was regularly within a few games of a .500 record nearly every season. However, the team was “good, but never good enough,” only appearing in one playoff series (a 1-4 demolition against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018) following the Harris purchase. Though the team is currently involved in a playoff series against the New York Rangers, their previous mediocre performances could sound alarm bells in D.C. as they hope to dig themselves out of the hole Snyder left.

Of course, a good owner is not the end-all be-all of a sports franchise in most cases. There are notable exceptions, such as Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Al Davis (Oakland Raiders), Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks) and others. Where a few owners may be more hands-on, trying to steer the future of their team (for better or for worse), many others are more than happy to hand the reins to general managers while taking in the occasional game or two from prime seating. It remains to be seen which type of owner Josh Harris is. However, one thing’s sure: for better or worse, it’s a new era in D.C.