Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Daniel Snyder and his Washington Redskins – this time it might be for real


Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder remains one of the most polarizing figures in sports today. Beloved by those who Snyder would say understand his management style; hated by those who look at the brash businessman who does whatever he wants and believe he is a failure and misunderstood by most, Snyder and his Redskins were front and center this week as the National Football League began its 2012 free agency signing period.

On Saturday, the Redskins made one of the biggest trades in franchise history, picking up the number two selection in April’s NFL draft. The Redskins may have mortgaged their future for the right to draft Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, a QB from Baylor. The Indianapolis Colts are expected to take another quarterback, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, with the first overall selection. The Redskins traded three first-round draft picks and a second-round draft pick to the St. Louis Rams for the second pick in the draft.

One of the keys to the NFL’s interest in having a league that offers competitive balance, teams operate on a level playing field when it comes to their team payroll with a league mandated salary cap. During the 2010 season, the NFL operated without a salary cap during their ongoing negotiations with the NFL Players Association relating to the collective bargaining agreement the two sides were working toward at the time. The NFL’s request was regarded as an unwritten rule, a “gentleman’s agreement.” Teams were told not to structure player contracts to gain an unfair competitive advantage when the salary cap returned. The Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys violated the spirit — if not the letter — of the NFL’s wishes.

The owners of the 30 other NFL teams contacted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and demanded that Goodell take action against the Redskins and the Cowboys.

“All the clubs were warned not to do anything to create a competitive advantage when the salary cap came back, and that’s what [the Redskins] did,” said one of those familiar with the matter in a Washington Post report. “They were very obvious about it. A lot of people were very angry about it. The ramifications could have been far worse for them. They could have lost draft picks. Some people recommended that to the commissioner.”

The NFL has reduced the Redskins’ salary cap by $36 million over the next two seasons; and at least half must be subtracted this year.

Former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon agreed on Tuesday to a five-year, $42.5 million contract within the first hour of free agency. They followed that by agreeing to a deal with wide receiver Josh Morgan and pursuing Eddie Royal.

The question has been asked before – is Daniel Snyder a good or a bad sports team owner? And how do the events of the past few days impact on his legacy as the owner of the Redskins?

Snyder’s life has been consumed by an enduring love for the Washington Redskins. Growing up in the D.C. area, his youth and young adulthood were shaped and inspired by his devotion to the team. Now in his second decade as owner, Snyder has put his passion into action. He has consistently led the franchise to new prominence in the community, the business world, and the National Football League. Under his leadership, the team has raised millions of dollars for charities and maintained its place in the top tier of the world’s most valuable sports franchises.

Snyder, 47, is prominent in the affairs of the NFL, where his expertise in the fields of marketing and media have been recognized with appointments to the Broadcast Committee, the Business Ventures Committee, the Digital Media Committee, the Hall of Fame Committee (which oversees the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio) and separately, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Redskins, who continue to be ranked among the world’s most valuable sports franchises on Forbes magazine’s annual list, remain at the forefront of NFL marketing and business organizations. Since buying the team, Snyder has launched a highly successful retail arm, with more than a dozen Official Redskins Stores in Virginia and Maryland, as well as mobile units for use at home games and other events.

FedEx Field, the team’s wholly-owned stadium, has the largest seating capacity in the NFL with nearly 92,000 seats. Tickets to Redskins games have been sold out for more than 40 years. Since he purchased the team, Snyder invested more than $100 million in improvements to the facility, including high-speed escalators to the upper deck, updated signage, more than 1,000 flat-screen TVs on concourses and other areas, as well as the League standard-setting Owner’s Club East and Owner’s Club West private luxury suites. During the 2010 offseason, the Redskins installed two new video boards – 30 feet high and 100 feet wide – in each of the end zones at FedEx Field.

The screens feature state-of-the-art high-definition LED displays and are triple the size of the previous end-zone video displays. The team will also enhance the fans’ game-day experience with all new game clocks, play clocks, other in-stadium video displays, and the Party Deck Platform on the Club Level.

The Club’s media ventures include Redskins Nation, a daily 30-minute television show produced by the Redskins Broadcast Network, television and radio broadcasts via Redskins.com, a robust editorial staff, professional sports‘ first full-time independent blogger, and Extremeskins.com, the team’s fan forum with more than 100,000 registered members. The team also produces a variety of other television programs, broadcast independently as well as in partnership with local television outlets.

However, the Redskins have made some of the worst player decisions in NFL history – overpaying free agents that produced little, if anything, for the team on the field.

Bruce Smith -- five-years, $23 million in 2000. He played 62 games for Washington in four years Antwaan Randle El -- seven-years, $31 million in 2006. He played 63 games over four years
Mark Brunell -- seven-years, $43 million in 2004. He played 33 games in four years.
Laveranues Coles -- five-years, $35 million. He played 32 games in two seasons.
Jeff George -- four-years, $18.25 million in 2000. He played 8 games over two years before retiring. Albert Haynesworth -- seven years, $100 million in 2009. He has played 16 games with Washington, but only 4 in 2010.
Deion Sanders -- seven-years, $56 million in 2000. He played 16 games with Washington in just one season.

The key to a successful football team is their quarterback. Robert Griffen, III could be a franchise quarterback, a player who could lead the Redskins for the next decade. The Redskins biggest challenge over the last few NFL seasons has been with their quarterbacks. If Griffen becomes the quarterback the Redskins have been searching for, the decision to trade draft picks for Griffen might be the best decision the Redskins have made in recent memory. The team will need to sign free agents to make the Griffen trade work. The good news, the Redskins like signing free-agents, the bad news is their history of signing the wrong free agents.

The NFL’s decision to reduce the Redskins payroll by $36 million over the next two years won’t help the team’s efforts to sign free-agents, but it won’t hurt as much as people might believe it will. Griffen needs a year or two to begin to develop as an NFL quarterback. When his third season begins, the Redskins will (at least financially) be in a position to sign the key free-agents they’ll need to complement their quarterback.

Daniel Snyder’s biggest problem is his reputation to micromanage the Redskins. New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft might be the best owner in sports today. Kraft leaves all of the Patriots on-field decisions to their general manager and head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls and played in two others in the last ten years. The Redskins haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1984. Kraft manages the Patriots business off the field. Given the success the Patriots have enjoyed over the last decade, maybe it’s time Snyder starting following the style and example Robert Kraft has set for managing and owning an NFL team.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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