Commanders’ free-agent contracts could hint at Dan Snyder’s planned sale date

The question most often asked now regarding the potential sale of the Washington Commanders is not if, but when. Details in the team’s recently signed player contracts may provide the answer.

The general practice among all 32 NFL teams historically has been to pay out at least a portion of large 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 executed contracts.

That date? May 12, 2023, according to people who have seen the contracts for defensive tackle Daron Payne and two recently signed free agents. Those and other people involved in or familiar with NFL contracts suggested to The Athletic that this unusual aspect makes sense in conjunction with owner Dan Snyder’s anticipated franchise sell-by date.

May 12 is two months after Payne, Washington’s 2022 sack 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 it is significantly longer than the payout structure used in previous extensions 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 Athletic, including a former Washington front-office employee familiar with the team’s historical approach to contracts, were granted anonymity for their candor and insight.

“Relative to their prior contract precedents, it would seem that they have intentionally delayed the first installment of their signing bonuses,” the former front-office employee said. “Very plausible that it’s related to the expected timeline of a sale. … I think the payout dates are fairly telling.”

Another person who reviewed the Payne contract said, “It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?”

The March 26-29 NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix have long been viewed as the first possible time on the league’s calendar when concrete sale news may occur. Snyder’s control of the franchise that he co-owns with Tanya Snyder, his wife, will be a primary topic regardless.

If there is no sale, the other owners — with input from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — could decide to remove Snyder if 24 of the 31 owners vote in favor. Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters at the October meeting that could “potentially happen.”

On Nov. 2, the Snyders announced the hiring of Bank of America Securities to “consider potential transactions.”

The same May 12 bonus payment date is also in the contracts signed by free-agent quarterback Jacoby Brissett and free-agent offensive lineman Andre Wylie last week, according to two people who have viewed the executed contracts. Brissett’s $8 million guarantee includes a $4.5 million signing bonus. Wylie’s $8 million signing bonus is spread out over three payments starting with $1.5 million in May.

Since 2020, Dan Snyder has been the subject of several investigations and news reports regarding sexual harassment and possible financial improprieties within the organization. This includes an ongoing 13-month examination 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 leading — factor in selling the franchise he has owned since 1999.


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The NFL approved a $450 million debt waiver in March 2021 for Snyder to purchase 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 Snyder took out a $55 million line of credit without their approval.

The sale of the historic NFL franchise is expected to top 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 generated speculation about whether the owner would authorize contracts with significant up-front payouts during this transactional period. Washington did sign Payne and several outside free agents this week, but the delayed bonus payments would become the responsibility of whoever owns the team on May 12 if a sale happens before then.

The number of installments in NFL signing bonuses can differ between “cash-rich” and “cash-poor” teams, but they typically begin within 15 to 30 days after the contract becomes official. Payne’s $28 million bonus payout comes in three installments: $7 million due on May 12, $9 million on Sept. 15 and $12 million on April 1, 2024.

The Athletic reviewed the payout calendar structure portions of contracts for McLaurin, Allen and Williams. They also show payouts being spread out over time, but all were 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 out “within 15 days (after execution and approval by NFL management council).”

Allen, Payne’s interior 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 date of contract execution. The other $15 million was due the following April.

McLaurin signed a three-year, $68.2 million extension last July. The agreement reads that the initial eight-figure payment “shall be payable … within 28 days of Contract execution.” Four additional installments of various amounts, including another eight-figure payout this April, conclude on April 1, 2024.

Multiple potential bidders have explored the possibility 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 Amazon founder has worked with the investment bank Allen & Co. while pondering his interest even though he was, at least initially, shut out of the bidding process.

(Photo of Dan Snyder: Mark Goldman / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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