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 at least a portion of large signing bonuses within 15 to 30 days of the transaction date. This cycle, the Commanders extended the payment 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 contracts for defensive end Daron Payne and two recently signed free agents. They and other people involved in or familiar with NFL contracts are suggested The Athletic that this unusual aspect makes sense when combined with owner Dan Snyder’s projected franchise sale date.
May 12 marks 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 is significantly longer than the pay structure used in previous extensions for wide receiver Terry McLaurin (2022), defensive end Jonathan Allen (2021) and former Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams (2016 .)
How Daron Payne’s huge (and surprising) contract was made and what it means for Washington
These people who talked to The Athleticincluding a former Washington front office employee familiar with the team’s historic approach to contracts, were granted anonymity for their candor and insight.
“In relation to their previous contractual precedents, it appears that they deliberately delayed the first installment of their signing bonuses,” said a former front-office employee. “It is very likely that this is related to the expected timing of the sale. … I think the pay dates speak volumes.”
Another person who reviewed Payne’s contract said: “It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?”
The March 26-29 NFL owners meetings in Phoenix have long been considered the first possible time on the league’s calendar when concrete news of a sale could emerge. Snyder’s control over the franchise he co-owns with Tanya Snyder, his wife, will be a major topic regardless.
If a sale doesn’t happen, the other owners – with the help of 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 a meeting in October that it “could potentially happen.”
On November 2, the Snyders announced the engagement of Bank of America Securities to “review potential transactions.”
The same May 12 bonus payment date is also in the contracts signed last week by free agent guard Jacoby Brissett and forward Andre Wylie, according to two people who have seen the contracts executed. Brissett’s $8 million guarantee includes a $4.5 million signing bonus. Wylie’s $8 million signing bonus is spread over three payments starting with $1.5 million in May.
As of 2020, Dan Snyder has been the subject of several investigations and news reports regarding sexual harassment and possible financial irregularities within the organization. That includes a 13-month investigation into Snyder’s actions by attorney and NFL personality Mary Jo White. However, Snyder’s financial reasons are believed to be the driving — if not the leading — factor in selling the franchise he has owned since 1999.
Dan Snyder, Commanders timeline: Committee details toxic culture, Snyder says NFL didn’t cooperate
In March 2021, the NFL approved $450 million in debt relief 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.
The sale of the historic NFL franchise is 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 impending potential sale have sparked speculation about whether the owner will approve contracts with significant upfront payments during this transaction period. Washington signed Payne and several outside free agents this week, but the deferred bonus payments would become the responsibility of the team’s owners on May 12 if the sale occurs before then.
The number of NFL signing bonus installments can vary between “rich” and “poor” teams, but they usually start within 15 to 30 days after the contract becomes official. Payne’s $28 million bonus payment comes in three installments: $7 million due on May 12, $9 million on September 15 and $12 million on April 1, 2024.
The Athletic reviewed parts of the contract payment calendar structure for McLaurin, Allen and Williams. They also show that the payouts were spread over time, but all were within a standard time frame.
Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection for Washington in the 2010s and now a star with the 49ers, signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension in 2015 that included an $8.5 million signing bonus. The contract stated that the $6.25 million would be paid “within 15 days (after execution and approval by the NFL’s board of directors).”
Allen, Payne’s inside partner on Washington’s defensive line, signed a four-year, $72 million contract — with a $30 million signing bonus — hours before the team opened training camp in July 2021. The first of two payouts of 15 million dollars, she had 21 days from the date of conclusion of the contract. The other $15 million was due the following April.
McLaurin signed a three-year, $68.2 million contract extension last July. The contract states that the initial eight-figure payment “will be payable … within 28 days of execution of the contract.” Four additional installments of varying amounts, including another eight-figure payout this April, end on April 1, 2024.
Multiple potential bidders have explored the possibility of buying the franchise, including a group led by Josh Harris, owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the 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 collaborated with the investment bank Allen & Co. as he pondered his interest even though, at least initially, he was excluded from the bidding process.
(Dan Snyder photo by Mark Goldman / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images