Dan Snyder in 2021. Photo via USA TODAY Sports Images

Almost two years after the various email leaks that led to Jon Gruden’s resignation as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in October 2021, there are still many questions about who leaked what to whom. ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham explored that in a detailed feature Wednesday, with that piece covering many sources’ comments on potential leak origins, and also exploring how the leaked emails played a key role in Dan Snyder and his family eventually selling the now-Washington Commanders. And now, as per a report Thursday from Mark Maske and Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post, the origins of the leaks are reportedly a potential snag in Snyder’s sale of the team to Josh Harris:

That piece builds on the ESPN feature, specifically noting how Snyder and his family appear ready to indemnify other owners from future legal liability (Gruden has an active lawsuit against the NFL and Goodell). But, as per Jhabvala and Maske, they’re not ready to indemnify NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or NFL general counsel Jeff Pash:

According to one of the people with knowledge of the deliberations, the complications are related at least in part to legal issues pertaining to the leaking of emails that led to the October 2021 resignation of Jon Gruden as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.

That person described the complications as “significant” and “not just some small snag,” expressing the view that the issues could delay the owners’ approval of the sale and the closing of the deal if they’re not resolved.

…One person with knowledge of the negotiations between the NFL and Snyder’s attorneys said Wednesday that, while Snyder is not seeking for the league and the other owners to indemnify him against future legal liability, the complications relate to the willingness of Snyder and his family to indemnify the league and owners against liability related to the Gruden case. 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.

That may be an important sticking point indeed. The Van Natta/Wickersham ESPN feature did not find definitive conclusions on who was involved in any of the email leaks (it’s worth noting there are several separate ones, including one to The Wall Street Journal and a later one to The New York Times), but it did include discussion of potential personal involvement from Goodell (a claim Gruden makes in his lawsuit) and/or Pash. And it included Goodell specifically telling Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, after the WSJ report but ahead of the NYT report, that “more emails are coming”:

When Davis and [Raiders president Dan] Ventrelle took the conference call with Goodell and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, Davis leaned toward sticking by Gruden. But Davis felt immediate pressure. According to sources with direct knowledge of the call, Goodell repeatedly told Davis, “You have to do something.”

“What are you going to do?” Pash asked.

…”There’s more emails coming,” Goodell told Davis. “Something has to be done.”

…Gruden would soon file a lawsuit against the NFL and Goodell that accused the commissioner of “directly leaking” his emails to harm his reputation and force him out, something league officials have repeatedly denied.

What angered Davis more than anything, he later said, was being surprised by the emails months after Goodell, Pash and other owners, including Snyder, knew about them.

Beyond that, that piece includes quite the back-and-forth on potential Goodell involvement in the leaks, with even some owners making that case but Goodell denying it.

Fifteen days after Gruden resigned under pressure, Goodell denied in a closed-door, owners-only meeting in midtown Manhattan that he or anyone in the league office had leaked the damning emails.

…Sources, including one in ownership, told ESPN that NFL executives approved the release of some emails. Four owners told ESPN they believe Goodell was personally involved. NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy repeated the league’s denial, in public and in legal responses, that it was responsible. “Neither the NFL nor the commissioner leaked Coach Gruden’s offensive emails,” McCarthy told ESPN. In a statement to ESPN, Gruden said, “it’s ridiculous the league thought they could cherry-pick emails from years ago, when I wasn’t even a coach and try to end my career.” He added: “At a minimum, I deserved the opportunity to respond and receive some due process.”

Goodell and league office figures (including Pash) are only one potential leak source identified in the ESPN piece. Others discussed as potential sources for some or all of the leaks include Snyder himself and Washington franchise figures (claims that have come up before), figures at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation agency and the Reed Smith law firm Snyder worked with, and then-NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith (who one source says bragged about leaking the one email containing a racist reference to him, and did so around a contested election to retain his role that he eventually won).

But the ESPN piece certainly adds some new dimensions on potential involvement from Goodell and Pash. That’s especially true around both the discussion of that “more emails are coming” call and with ownership sources telling Wickersham and Van Natta they believe league executives and Goodell played roles here. And while the Snyder negotiations referenced by the Post have been ongoing for a while, it’s definitely notable to see discussion of indemnification of Goodell and Pash as a sticking point become public in this way right after discussions of their potential leak involvement ramped up. We’ll see where this goes, and if it does wind up affecting the team’s sale at all.

[The Washington Post, ESPN]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.