As the NFL sprints toward an unprecedented season, the Washington Redskins are transforming at an equally unprecedented pace.
In the coming weeks, the team is likely to have a new identity, could see as much as 40 percent of its ownership change hands, and potentially get closer to a stadium deal that has been discussed for the past decade.
The most noticeable change to fans will be a new name. The Redskins have played under that moniker since 1933, though during the past five decades, there have been protests that the name is insensitive to Native Americans (a group picketed the 1992 Super Bowl, which Washington won).
Now owner Dan Snyder must search for a new name on an accelerated timetable. The 2020 season, which seems increasingly likely to be played in empty stadiums, provides an opportunity to give fans a season to adapt to the new name, without registering objection in person at games.
Snyder has long been connected with “Warriors,” a name he wanted to use for an Arena Football team that never got off the ground in the late 1990s.
The name would allow a continuation of the team’s spear logo, as well as its burgundy and gold colors.
Another option that has floated for years is “Redtails,” which allows the team to keep other elements of its identity intact, namely the #HTTR (Hail to the Redskins) hashtag on social media.
The Red Tails were a group of Tuskegee Airmen, famed African American pilots who fought during World War II.
In the past week, a third option has gained steam on social media — the “Redwolves.”
The Red Wolves also have a military connection — they were a group of Navy helicopter pilots based out of Norfolk.
Fans of the moniker have lobbied players and other prominent online figures to offer an endorsement of the concept, including mock-ups of what potential jerseys could look like. An unscientific poll conducted by The Washington Post online this week showed Redwolves as an early favorite.
The NFL would have veto power over any new name, but it is not believed that any of the three would be immediately unpalatable.
Snyder is grappling with losing more than just his team’s name, though. He’s witnessing an erosion of his inner circle at a crucial moment for the franchise.
Washington’s three minority investors, who collectively own 40 percent of the franchise, have enlisted an investment bank to help negotiate a sale.
Those owners — FedEx CEO Frederick W. Smith, investor Robert Rothman and Dwight Schar, CEO of the homebuilding giant NVR — were often seen with Snyder on the sideline at games, and in the owner’s box at FedEx Field.
Snyder is also without longtime right-hand man Bruce Allen, who was the team president for 10 years before being fired in December.
Even the politicians who had long aided Washington’s cause have fallen by the wayside, particularly in D.C., where unlocking the land beneath RFK Stadium has been a challenge.
Longtime city politician Jack Evans resigned after an ethics finding that led to a recommendation that he be expelled from D.C.’s City Council. Evans had been an advocate for the team returning to the city.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had recently softened her opposition to the team’s name, has doubled down on it again in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.
And former Mayor Vincent Gray, now on the City Council, said Friday of a potential return to RFK: “That train has left the station.”
Bringing the Redskins back to Washington has long been considered one of the foremost things Snyder can do to win back the fan base. If D.C. doesn’t pan out, a stadium in Virginia has been considered a likely outcome, though not a universally loved one.
Snyder faces these challenges without a person in the team president role, who could help take the heat off the owner. New coach Ron Rivera has been given authority over most issues, but must soon turn his focus to the football team ahead of the 2020 season.
That leaves Snyder as the point man, and his opponents are undoubtedly aware of that.
The next few weeks will determine how he’ll navigate one of the most tumultuous times in franchise history.