Washington Commanders' New Owner Josh Harris
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The Era of Josh Harris: A New Dawn for Washington Commanders

Josh Harris and his partners assumed ownership of the Washington Commanders in July, but Harris has wasted no time in leaving his mark on the franchise. Ahead of the NFL trade deadline, the Commanders made a significant move by trading away their former first-round defensive ends, Montez Sweat (to the Chicago Bears) and Chase Young (to the San Francisco 49ers). In return, they received second and third-round picks in the 2024 NFL draft, respectively. Both Sweat and Young are set to become unrestricted free agents after the 2023 NFL season.

One of the key questions surrounding these trades was the decision-makers. While head coach Ron Rivera is the head of football operations and Martin Mayhew holds the title of general manager, the job security of both individuals is uncertain under the new ownership. Dianna Russini of The Athletic shed some light on the situation, stating that “Washington ownership had a strong hand in deciding to deal both Chase Young and Montez Sweat.”

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It’s understandable that “many in the building” wanted to retain these talented defensive ends, especially given the coaches’ stakes in keeping their jobs, including Rivera. However, the focus of this move extends beyond 2023; it’s all about the future.

Washington Commanders fans have longed for ownership decisions that prioritize the franchise’s long-term prospects rather than short-term gains, and Tuesday’s trades are emblematic of that shift in strategy.

In a surprising move, the Washington Commanders traded both of their former first-round defensive ends. While many expected one of them to be moved, Washington opted to trade both, receiving Day 2 draft picks in the 2024 NFL draft. Montez Sweat was traded to the Chicago Bears in exchange for a second-round pick, and Chase Young was sent to the San Francisco 49ers for one of their compensatory third-round picks in 2024.

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Ron Rivera, the head coach, was likely hesitant to part ways with players while he believed the team still had a chance to make the playoffs and potentially secure his job. However, the Commanders were sold to an ownership group led by billionaire Josh Harris in late July, and Harris has been closely evaluating the team ever since. While he has attended every game, his public influence on the team had been limited until these trades.

Harris made a substantial impact by overruling those who wanted to retain the defensive linemen. Both players were in the final year of their contracts and would have become free agents if Washington didn’t trade, extend, or franchise tag them. This move seems to be an opportunity to accumulate draft picks and amass over $90 million in cap space for the 2024 season.

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Josh Harris’s ownership journey began when an investment group led by him, the billionaire owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils, acquired the Washington Commanders for an NFL-record $6 billion from Daniel Snyder in July. Harris recently passed the 100-day mark of his NFL ownership, during which he focused on rebuilding trust and fostering community engagement.

Who Is Josh Harris?

Josh Harris is not just an NFL owner; he’s an investor, entrepreneur, sports team owner, and philanthropist. He’s considered one of the most successful investors in private equity history. Harris co-founded Apollo Global Management, which merged with Athene last year.

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His journey started in Chevy Chase, Md., and led him to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After a stint at the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert in New York City, Harris pursued an MBA at Harvard Business School. He later co-launched Apollo (NYSE: APO) with former Drexel partners Leon Black and Marc Rowan in 1990. Tony Ressler, the owner of the Atlanta Hawks, is also a co-founder of the firm.

Harris has been involved in the U.S. Olympic Committee and serves on the boards of Mount Sinai Hospital, Harvard Business School, and Wharton School. He’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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As for his wealth, the 58-year-old Harris is worth $8.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Harris’s Path to Wealth

Harris’s fortune was built by making astute deals through his investment firm, which now manages around $600 billion in assets. He made a significant move when Apollo’s initial public offering took off, cashing out one of the top private equity deals in history in 2008. Apollo’s investment in distressed debt from chemical company LyondellBasell, which filed for bankruptcy a year later, turned out to be a brilliant move. The value of Apollo’s investment soared to almost $12 billion five years later when the manufacturer went public.

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Harris’s exit from the deal resulted in almost $10 billion in profit. He also founded the alternative asset firm 26North, which manages more than $12 billion in assets. In 2021, Harris stepped down from his day-to-day role in Apollo to focus on his sports investments and philanthropic interests, although he retained a board seat until last year. Additionally, he established Harris Philanthropies, a nonprofit family foundation that focuses on youth and community development.

Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment (HBSE)

Around 15 years ago, Harris teamed up with his friend and business partner David Blitzer, a senior executive at the private equity firm Blackstone Group. This partnership led to the formation of Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment in 2017. Through HBSE, Harris owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, among other entities. Harris and Blitzer also own Ripken Baseball, which merged with Cooperstown All-Star Village, and they have an interest in the English Premier League club Crystal Palace.

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HBSE is one of the most valuable sports companies in the U.S. It is deeply involved in various real estate properties, operating the Prudential Center in New Jersey and the Wollman Rink in Central Park, among other properties in the tri-state area. Harris and HBSE are also working on plans to build a $1.3 billion arena for the 76ers, with the intention of moving away from the Comcast Spectacor-owned Wells Fargo Center.

The Washington Commanders’ Ownership Group

In purchasing the Washington Commanders for a record $6 billion, Harris partnered with local billionaire Mitchell Rales, Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, and David Blitzer. Harris’s ownership group also includes Washington Open chairman Mark Ein, LA Sparks managing partner Eric Holoman, Maverick Capital managing partner Lee Ainslie, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Blue Owl Capital co-CEO Marc Lipschultz, and the Santo Domingo family.

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Harris also holds a minority stake in NASCAR’s Joe Gibbs Racing, with Gibbs, the former Washington coach, serving as an unofficial advisor to Harris and others on the Commanders’ senior leadership team.