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Was Jon Gruden a fall guy for the Washington Football Team investigation?

Andrew Brandt joins Trey Wingo and Brett Yarris to discuss the Jon Gruden email leaks and their connection to the Washington Football Team.

Last week, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned after a series of emails uncovered during the investigation into the Washington Football team were leaked to the public. On this week’s More Than Football podcast, PFN’s Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo and host Brett Yarris are joined by former Green Bay Packers vice president Andrew Brandt to discuss the NFL’s latest scandal.

Mark Davis didn’t want to fire Gruden

When discussing the decision to let Gruden go, Raiders owner Mark Davis had this to say: “Ask the NFL, they have all the answers.”

Brandt translates that as “I didn’t want to fire Jon — they made me fire Jon.” He believes Davis was, and still is, all-in on Gruden. Ultimately, though, the pressure from other owners, the NFL, and whoever was the “Wizard of Oz” behind the leaks was too much.

Jon Gruden is taking the fall for a much larger problem

Part of the reason Davis might have been reluctant to let Gruden go is that Gruden’s emails leaked as a result of a much larger investigation into the Washington Football Team. And as Brandt points out, “this is not an investigation that has anything to do with Jon Gruden.”

The investigation into Washington’s scandals has already resulted in some penalties, including a $10 million fine and the forced transfer of ownership duties from Dan Snyder to his wife, Tonya. However, Brandt thinks these seem like strangely lax punishments.

After all, former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was forced to sell the team for infractions that, while unacceptable, pale in comparison to what Snyder and the Washington Football Team are accused of.

And now, somehow, in a trove of 650,000 emails, the focus is instead on someone who at the time was an ESPN broadcaster.

Does the Gruden leak coincide with keeping DeMaurice Smith in his role?

One potential reason for the current focus on Gruden that Brandt brings up is related to current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. In a recently leaked email, Gruden used racist language to describe Smith.

The day after that email was leaked, Smith was re-elected as the NFLPA’s executive director by the minimum required vote. Brandt doesn’t want to suggest that Smith or the union had anything to do with the leak, but the timing is certainly suspicious.

It suggests that whoever leaked the information wanted Smith to keep his job, and Brandt believes the NFL owners have good reasons to want exactly that.

Brandt doesn’t go so far as to suggest that Smith is pro-owner, but he notes that we are in the midst of a second consecutive collective bargaining agreement that favors the owners. As a result, they’ve avoided labor interruptions and have been able to sign ten-year media deals.

They were also able to get a 17th game, which was something the players were strongly against, to the point where a player leader told Brandt:

“We thought the seventeenth game was a non-negotiable from our side, yet somehow in negotiations we found out the 17th game was a non-negotiable from the owners’ side.”

That capitulation still upsets a lot of players, and it might not have happened if Smith wasn’t in charge.

Gruden is the current focus, but Bruce Allen is the center

Gruden is the biggest loser so far in this whole debacle, but Wingo believes the real focus of these leaks is former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen. Gruden’s emails, and those sent by analyst Adam Schefter and NFL attorney Jeff Pasch, all link back to Allen.

Wingo notes that it is extremely convenient that the focus of the Washington investigation is now on someone who is no longer with the team. The remaining staff can say “clearly, this was the problem,” and that everything is copasetic with Gruden’s dismissal.

The NFL is hoping this whole scandal will go away

Whoever the true target of these leaks might be, Wingo suggests that, by not releasing the rest of the emails, the NFL is making a calculated decision:

“We can take the heat on not releasing the emails. But the heat would be much more significant, and damaging, if we released all the emails.”

The implication being that whatever else is in the emails might not damage just one team, but the entirety of the NFL’s $20 billion industry.

Sacrificing people like Gruden and Pasch are moves the league is willing to make for the sake of their bottom line. After all, coaches and lawyers aren’t exactly in short supply. Businesses the size of the NFL are harder to find.

And if the fallout from this scandal can simmer in this way, Brandt suggests that the NFL is counting on us to move on. After all, “there will always be something else next week.” Whether it’s a big play or a controversial call, some new event will capture the attention of NFL fans. The Gruden email scandal had a similar effect on the controversy surrounding Urban Meyer, which no one is talking about anymore.

This scandal might take longer to disappear, but the NFL knows its fans will eventually move on if the leaks don’t continue.

Despite the enormity of this scandal, the NFL won’t suffer for it

Wingo and Brandt agree that this scandal likely won’t hurt the NFL’s bottom line. As Wingo points out, fans always say they’ll stop watching for hundreds of different reasons, but ratings are up 17% this year.

Ultimately, Wingo believes that the only way this scandal ends up damaging the league is if whoever is leaking information decides to release everything, revealing similar problems to what we saw in Gruden’s emails “on every team, on every staff, on every front office,” causing a league-wide scandal.

Then, the lawyers in the Washington lawsuit could use that as ammunition to take on the league. However, if that doesn’t happen, the NFL won’t feel its effects. It is simply too big to fail over something like this.

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