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Commanders sale news: How Jon Gruden lawsuit could delay Dan Snyder’s departure as Washington owner

NFL owners will meet next week to approve the sale of the Commanders from Daniel Snyder to a group led by Josh Harris. But Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the NFL could provide some issues with completing the deal.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Snyder is unwilling to secure the league and other owners against damages that might come up in the Gruden lawsuit related to the former Raiders coach’s resignation after leaked emails. Snyder, himself, is not seeking indemnification from the league and other owners.

Back in 2021, Gruden accused the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell of purposely leaking the emails containing racist, homophobic and misogynistic language to “publicly sabotage Gruden’s career.”

MORE: Daniel Snyder’s ‘Blackmail Powerpoint,’ explained

Snyder had agreed to sell the team to a group fronted by Harris, Mitchell Rales and Magic Johnson back in May for $6.05 billion, the largest sale ever for an American sports team. Owners are expected to ratify the deal on July 20 at a special league meeting, unless there is a significant setback.

Here’s what you need to know about the situation.

How Jon Gruden lawsuit could delay Dan Snyder’s sale

There is certainly the possibility that Snyder’s reluctance to provide the league and owners with legal indemnification could cause the owners’ approval of the sale next week to be delayed, which would then likely push back the closing of the deal.

Per the Post, Snyder’s sister, Michele Snyder, is not willing to agree to indemnify other league owners, and since she is a part-owner, she could hold up the deal.

[Dan] Snyder’s attorneys are arguing that Snyder should not be responsible for any legal liability stemming from the actions of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league attorney Jeff Pash, the person familiar with the deliberations said.

A source with knowledge of the communication between the Commanders and the NFL said all the Commanders’ current owners are fine with indemnifying the league “for any damages arising from the actions of the owners and the team,” but that the agreement would not extend to Goodell and Pash.

MORE: Dan Snyder financial impropriety allegations, explained

Additionally, Dan Snyder had previously been willing to sign an affidavit that said he had not been the one to leak Gruden’s emails to the press that ultimately led to his resignation. However, the Post reported that is no longer the case. Snyder has already testified saying he did not leak the emails, did not tell anyone else to do so, or know who did it, per a Post source.

One of the Post’s sources explained the situation was “significant” and “not just some small snag,” though it noted Snyder could just be trying to get more from the league in legal protection from Gruden’s lawsuit.

“Hopefully it gets resolved,” the source told the Post. “But at this point, it’s serious.”

Jon Gruden lawsuit

According to a 2021 report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Gruden is suing the NFL, Goodell and 20 unnamed defendants, claiming that “through a malicious and orchestrated campaign,” the commissioner and the league worked to “destroy” Gruden’s “career and reputation.” The lawsuit claims that the identities of the 20 other defendants are currently unknown to the plaintiffs but asks that the court amend the complaint when their names become known.

“Defendants’ treatment of Gruden was a Soviet-style character assassination,” the coach’s attorneys claimed in the lawsuit. “There was no warning and no process. Defendants held the emails for months until they were leaked to the national media in the middle of the Raiders’ season in order to cause maximum damage to Gruden.”

In a response to the Review-Journal, an NFL spokesman said, “The allegations are entirely meritless and the NFL will vigorously defend against these claims.”

The lawsuit noted that Gruden was in the midst of a 10-year, $100 million contract and that as a “direct and proximate result of Defendants’ malicious efforts to interfere with Gruden’s contract with the Raiders, Gruden experienced massive financial damages.” The suit listed his contract, endorsements and injuries to his reputation.

MORE: Jon Gruden emails, explained

Gruden’s claims in the lawsuit are summarized as follows:

  • There were disruptions to Gruden’s contractual relationships.
  • The NFL knew its actions would impact Gruden’s reputation and future employment and endorsement chances.
  • There was negligence during the league’s investigation into the Washington Football Team’s organization, saying the league knew it needed to be careful handling the investigation and prevent any leaks of information.
  • The NFL “negligently” hired individuals to oversee the investigation that failed to prevent the leak of information from happening.
  • The NFL had negligent supervision over its employees and the investigation.
  • There was a conspiracy to release “only those emails that portrayed Gruden negatively” and singled him out in spite of the full investigation into Washington. In addition, Goodell was a target in the leaked emails and he “retaliated by harming Gruden’s reputation and ending his career with the Raiders.”
  • The other defendants worked together to harm Gruden.

Gruden is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 for each of the seven claims of relief and is seeking that any compensatory damages awarded be at least trebled. According to the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure, anyone asking for more than $15,000 in a lawsuit should simply request damages “in excess of $15,000 without further specification of the amount.” 

A report from ESPN on June 12, 2023, found that several anonymous executives, lawyers, agents, and league and team officials believed the most likely sources of the leak would have been top NFL executives including Goodell (the league has continued to deny responsibility), Smith (declined to comment) or Snyder (his law firm has denied his involvement).

Regardless of the source of the leaks, several sources told ESPN they believe the revelation of the emails directly led to Snyder’s forced sale of the Commanders.

“He was free and clear that October — he just had to wait out his suspension and let everything blow over,” a source close to Snyder told ESPN. “A major miscalculation. Without the leaks, he might just have survived.”

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