Washington Football Team timeline: Controversy, comebacks and change

The pandemic. Social unrest. Name change. The Washington Football Team has endured a dizzying time as a franchise, one unlike any other NFL team has experienced.

Photo illustration of Washington Football Team players and coaches

Controversy, Comebacks and Change

The pandemic. Social unrest. Name change. The Washington Football Team has endured a dizzying time as a franchise, one unlike any other NFL team has experienced.

“We will never change the name of the team,” Washington owner Dan Snyder said in 2013.

In hindsight, it’s amazing how quickly big changes can happen. Just look at what the Washington Football Team has dealt with over the past 21 months.

The franchise did in fact change its name. There were sexual harassment allegations against former employees, which led to a $10 million fine from the NFL because of the workplace culture. Coach Ron Rivera was hired and later diagnosed with cancer. Coach Jennifer King became the NFL's first Black female assistant coach. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins flamed out, and QB Alex Smith made a comeback, leading the team to an NFC East title.

It has been one of the wildest stretches in franchise history. Follow the monumental, the disappointing and the inspiring here.

October 7, 2019

Coach Jay Gruden Is Fired

Jay Gruden at a press conference with a despondent face

Gruden believed he would be fired in his second season (2015) had he lost a “Code Red” game after a 2-4 start. By his sixth year, he had accepted his fate. Washington fires him at 0-5, setting up more changes. Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images

November 24, 2019

Dwayne Haskins Takes Selfies During the Fourth Quarter

Dwayne Haskins posing with fans for a selfie

Haskins’ teammates initially shrug at this move by the 2019 first-rounder, but it’s a sign of the quarterback’s immaturity to miss snaps while taking photos with multiple fans during a game. Former Washington great Joe Theismann calls it “unprofessional.” AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

December 30, 2019

Bruce Allen’s Time as General Manager Comes to an End

Bruce Allen walking out onto the field

The power structure of Washington’s NFL team changes for the first time in more than a decade when owner Dan Snyder fires Allen. Under Allen from 2010 to 2019, Washington played in two playoff games and had zero wins. Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Photo illustration of Ron Rivera on the field and off
January 1, 2020

Coach Ron Rivera Goes to Washington

Rivera, at age 57, becomes the seventh non-interim head coach hired by Snyder, who does something new in his two decades of WFT ownership: He gives Rivera all the power, creating a coach-centric approach. No coach under Snyder has entered with as much clout.

March 23, 2020

QB Kyle Allen Is Added to the Roster

Rivera foreshadows that a pandemic-shortened training camp could give Allen, who played for the coach in Carolina, an advantage with his knowledge of the offense. It is immediately understood: Haskins doesn’t have much room for error.

April 23, 2020

Number of Years Since Washington Last Drafted a Defender in the Top 5


Washington selects defensive end Chase Young second overall in the 2020 NFL draft, marking the first time the franchise drafts a defender in the top five picks since taking safety Sean Taylor at No. 5 in 2004.

April 25, 2020

Washington’s 2010 First-round Pick, Trent Williams, Is Traded

The Pro Bowl offensive tackle’s nearly yearlong beef with the organization ends when he is traded to the 49ers for two mid-round draft picks. “I’m thankful this is over,” Williams tells ESPN via text message.

May 1, 2020

Interview Reveals More on QB Alex Smith’s Injury and His Future

In an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Stephania Bell, medical staff and the Smith family, including Alex and wife Elizabeth, details are revealed about the QB’s recovery from a gruesome, life-threatening November 2018 leg injury and his quest to play again.

June 24, 2020

George Preston Marshall’s Name Is Removed From Ring of Fame

Amid nationwide racial unrest, the franchise disassociates itself from its former owner, who didn’t integrate the roster until 1962 under pressure from federal authorities. Four days earlier, Washington had retired the number of its first African American player, Bobby Mitchell.

July 3, 2020

Washington’s Team Name Is on the Brink of Changing

Given the focus on human rights and social justice after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, Snyder is finally convinced a name change is necessary and considers a switch. The announcement jump-starts a wild July of news in Washington.

“I expressed my concerns about the team name a long time ago. ... This can be a moment, especially for our city in this time, to take a step towards unity and healing.” NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith
July 8, 2020

Time to Sell? The Franchise’s Shareholders Look into Changes

Days after news of the impending name change, multiple sources say the franchise’s three minority investors, after 17 years, are tired of Snyder and have hired an investment banking firm to assist in selling their shares.

July 10, 2020

Inside Washington’s Meticulous Plan to Change its Branding

The franchise doesn’t want to rush an endeavor like this. In addition to the name, which a number of high-dollar sponsors say they want changed, Washington must design a logo and get a trademark, which could take a year-plus.

Photo illustration of the logo and historic team figures
July 13, 2020

There Is a New (Temporary) Name, Logo for Washington’s NFL Franchise

The franchise, which held its nickname for 87 years, retired the name on July 13, and 10 days later announced it will be called the Washington Football Team for the 2020 season. “Today marks the start of a new chapter,” says Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and head of the Change the Mascot campaign.

July 13, 2020

NFL Teams that Changed Names Without Moving Locations

Year Location Team Name
2020 Washington Redskins to WFT (temporary) to TBD
1999 Tennessee Oilers to Titans
1963 New York Titans to Jets
1941 Pittsburgh Pirates to Steelers
1933 Boston Braves to Redskins
1922 Chicago Staleys to Bears

These are the previous NFL franchises to change their nickname without moving locations, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Boston changed its name in 1933 and then in 1937, relocated to Washington, where it still plays today.

July 16, 2020

Report Reveals Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Emily Applegate is the only former Washington employee named in a Washington Post report alleging that 15 women endured sexual harassment and verbal abuse by former employees. The team hires attorney Beth Wilkinson to investigate the claims.

July 21, 2020

Julie Donaldson Becomes Team’s Highest-ranking Female Executive

Julie Donaldson smiling on the field with a football

With diversity in the organization lacking, Washington makes Donaldson the highest-ranking female executive, hiring her as the senior vice president of media. She becomes the first woman to be a regular on-air member of an NFL team's radio broadcast booth. Courtesy Washington Football Team

August 10, 2020

Snyder Makes Claim Against Former Employee

Synder looking perturbed on the field

In a lawsuit, Snyder asserts that former front-office executive assistant Mary-Ellen Blair helped wage a campaign against him by taking money to spread damaging information. Her attorneys say his filing is filled with falsehoods. Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images

August 10, 2020

Washington Releases Running Back Derrius Guice

Reports had said there were character concerns about the running back during the 2018 NFL draft, and the second-round pick is released after being arrested on domestic violence charges. Three knee injuries limited Guice to five games in two seasons with Washington.

August 17, 2020

Jason Wright Becomes First Black Team President in NFL History

Jason Wright

Not only is Wright the league’s first Black team president, but he’s also just the fourth former NFL player to ascend to that role. He emphasizes two things: transparency and sticking to business. Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post/Getty Images

“I'm just happy I landed in this role. ... There are other reasons it’s historic, but that’s a byproduct of me being the right and qualified candidate at this time.” Jason Wright
August 20, 2020

The Events of 2020 Reverberate Throughout The Team

Activists targeting the organization, social unrest happening around the country and personnel changes from within the front offices in this unprecedented year will shape the franchise forever.

August 20, 2020

Coach Rivera Is Diagnosed with Cancer

Ron Rivera at a press conference with a stoic face

Rivera is optimistic; the squamous cell carcinoma is caught early, and the prognosis is good. He delivers a message to his players: “It won’t be disruptive,” and he plans to keep coaching. Many players call it a bonding moment. Alika Jenner/Getty Images

September 5, 2020

Alex Smith’s Dream Becomes Reality When he Makes the Roster

Alex Smith throwing a football at practice

Washington considers placing the QB on injured reserve, but in the week before final cuts, he lobbies for more practice reps to prove himself. Plus, as he’d tell them, he’s not injured. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

September 24, 2020

Washington’s Radio Team Adjusts to Travel Changes

How Alex Smith's recovery became life-threatening

In an excerpt from E:60's Project 11, Alex Smith and his wife are among those who recall how his successful leg surgery quickly took a turn for the worse. Due to potentially disturbing medical images, viewer discretion is advised.

Because of the pandemic, Washington’s new radio crew adjusts to calling games from miles away. Little things are missed — feeling the emotion of a sideline, a challenge flag not seen immediately.

October 7, 2020

Rivera Reverses Course, Benches Haskins

Rivera originally said he would stick with Haskins through the growing pains, but he pivots a week later with the NFC East becoming more winnable — and a lack of progress by the second-year QB.

Photo illustration of Alex Smith performing various practice activities
October 11, 2020

What?! Yes, That Is Alex Smith Entering the Game

In the team’s Week 5 game, Rams tackle Aaron Donald jumps on the upright Smith for a sack. It’s a cringe-worthy moment, especially with his family in the stands, but Smith’s right leg holds up under pressure.

October 26, 2020

It’s Time to Celebrate as Rivera’s Cancer Treatments End

Ron Rivera in a mask standing around his team during a practice

After seven weeks of chemotherapy and proton therapy, Rivera walks down the hallway in a mini-parade, with hospital workers cheering and tossing confetti, and he rings the bell. Courtesy Inova Health System

November 9, 2020

Kyle Allen’s Season Ends

At 2–6, Washington’s season is slipping away. Allen undergoes season-ending surgery on his ankle and Smith’s first start results in a loss, but he throws for 390 yards in Detroit.

December 22, 2020

Reports Say Snyder Settled Lawsuit in 2009

Multiple reports reveal that in 2009, Snyder had settled a sexual misconduct suit for $1.6 million. At the time, Snyder and the team admitted no wrongdoing, and investigations failed to substantiate the claims.

December 28, 2020

2019 First-round Pick Is Done in Washington

Haskins on the field with a mask pulled down to his chin

The move comes less than two weeks after Haskins is photographed at his girlfriend’s birthday party without a mask, a huge no-no. But poor play and preparation habits are bigger factors in his demise. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

January 3, 2021

Washington Captures NFC East with This Many Wins


In winning five of its final seven regular-season games, Washington becomes the third team to win a division title with a losing record (7–9). It’s the team’s first division championship since 2015 and third in the past 21 seasons.

January 21, 2021

Place Your Sports Bets, Washington Fans

Virginia grants the NFL franchise a sports betting license, prompting the team to launch a mobile sportsbook in conjunction with FanDuel. Experts predict it will start a trend.

January 27, 2021

Jennifer King, the NFL’s First Black Female Assistant Coach, Is Promoted

Jennifer King turned sideways about to show someone how to pass a football

After two years as a summer intern with the Carolina Panthers and one as a full-season intern with Washington, King is promoted. Among those congratulating her: tennis luminary Billie Jean King. Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

February 4, 2021

Washington Icon Doug Williams Moves Into New Role

Doug Williams continues working with Washington franchise

After being removed as a personnel boss in 2020, the former Washington quarterback turned executive will focus on helping Wright navigate the name change and getting a new stadium. Quinn Harris/Getty Images

February 6, 2021

Chase Young and Alex Smith Earn Honors

Alex Smith and Chase Young taking a break during a game

Smith’s remarkable recovery and 5–1 record as a starter leads to 49 of 50 votes to earn him NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Young wins NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and says of 2021: “My biggest thing is coming into the season 100% healthy.” Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

February 10, 2021

Lawsuit Settled with Cheerleaders

Washington resolved a lawsuit near the end of 2020 with the team’s cheerleaders regarding lewd videos, but the news doesn’t come out until now. The team also announces that the cheerleading program and the band will be paused amid its rebranding.

February 15, 2021

Front Office Undergoes Big Changes

Rivera remains Washington’s most powerful football voice, but after an exhausting season, he adds experienced help, including GM Martin Mayhew, Chris Polian and Marty Hurney. Washington is the only team with a president, general manager and coach from minority groups.

March 5, 2021

Washington Grants Alex Smith’s Release

Alex Smith on the field waving

Alex Smith asks Washington to release him despite having two years left on his contract. The quarterback tells GQ Magazine he felt unwanted by the organization last summer, saying, “I'm like the leftovers and I'm hurt and I'm this liability.” Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

March 15, 2021

Veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick Strikes a Deal

Ryan Fitzpatrick in his old Miami Dolphins gear throwing a football at a game

In need of an experienced signal-caller, Washington agrees to a one-year deal with the 38-year-old. Fitzpatrick is the only QB in NFL history to start and throw touchdowns with eight different teams. Now he’ll have a chance to do it for a ninth. Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

March 23, 2021

A New Name Will Be in Place for the 2022 Season

A painted barricade with the old team name broken in half

Wright says that along with a new name in 2022, Washington will have a coed dance team, debuting this fall, instead of cheerleaders. He says the marching band also will return with a new look in 2021. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

March 31, 2021

Snyder Becomes Sole Owner of Washington Team

Snyder at a press conference in profile

The NFL finance committee approves a $450 million debt waiver on March 24, allowing Snyder to buy 40.5% of the shares owned by his three minority investors. On March 31, NFL owners approve giving Snyder and his family complete control. John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty Images

APRIL 7, 2021

Natalia Dorantes Is Hired By Wft As Nfl's First Latina Coordinator Of Football Programs

A former communications coordinator for the Texas A&M football team, Dorantes, 26, is hired by Rivera. Only the third woman to hold this job in the NFL, Dorantes will coordinate schedules across departments within the team, from medical to scouting.

APRIL 15, 2021

Snyder Files Suit Against Bruce Allen

Snyder files a motion seeking to access Allen's text messages and documents that allegedly led to negative reporting against Snyder. Allen was close to three former minority owners who exchanged court filings and accusations with Snyder over the past year.

APRIL 19, 2021

Alex Smith Announces Retirement From Nfl

Weeks from turning 37, he announces his decision in a video posted to Instagram. It caps a 16-year journey that started as a No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 and finished with a storybook return to the field in 2020.

JUNE 29, 2021


Snyder at a press conference in profile

Tanya Snyder (middle), already a co-owner of the franchise, joins husband Dan as co-CEO, making her one of the few female chief executives in NFL history. "We are at a pivotal point in the history of this team," Tanya says. Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

JULY 1, 2021


Snyder at a press conference in profile

The league rules after a yearlong probe into the team's workplace culture. Franchise co-CEO Tanya Snyder “takes over day-to-day team duties for the next several months.” Dan Snyder will focus "on a new stadium plan and other matters.” Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

JULY 13, 2021


It's been a year since the announcement that the franchise would temporarily be known as the Washington Football Team, and the name and logo will remain in place for the upcoming season. On July 12, Wright stated the team will not consider "Warriors" as a nickname.

Photo illustration of the defensive lineup tackling and flexing

Washington’s future looks bright but with an asterisk. There have been other years when the franchise has appeared to be sailing a better course under Snyder only to run ashore. The NFL’s investigation into the organization concluded July 1, 2021, with the $10 million fine and Snyder ceding day-to-day control of the team, at least temporarily, to his wife Tanya (co-owner and co-CEO).

She takes over a team that needs a long-term solution at quarterback and more offensive playmakers, but Washington has one of the NFL’s most talented defensive lines to build around and a coach the players respect.

At some point, the franchise will settle on a new name, but that might take another — hopefully much quieter — year.

Written by John Keim. Edited by Alisha Miller and Patrick Sutherland.

Produced by ESPN Creative Studio: Heather Donahue, Karen Frank, Lori Higginbotham, Don Jolovich, Justin McCraw, Sarah Pezzullo, and Jason Potterton.

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