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Lerner 'giving up controlling interest' of Browns, Haslam could buy 'very quickly'

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer
Haslam, a minority owner with Pittsburgh, is interested in buying the Browns. (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The Cleveland Browns are heading into a pretty transitional season, what with three rookies -- Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon -- potentially playing a major role on the team's offense. Things off the field appear headed for an even bigger change, as current owner Randy Lerner, per team president Mike Holmgren, "is giving up controlling interest in the team." Businessman Jimmy Haslam is working to acquire that controlling interest.

Lerner, who inherited the Browns after the death of his father Al in 2002, issued a statement on Friday morning acknowledging "current rumors and press inquiries" and confirming that he had "been approached" by Haslam, a current minority owner with the Steelers about "making an investment" in the Browns. League sources indicate to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora that the sale of the Browns could happy very quickly.

"In connection with current rumors and press inquiries, I can report that I've been approached by Mr. Jimmy Haslam, who is interested in making an investment in the Cleveland Browns," Lerner said in a statement released by the team. "We are currently in negotiations and both sides have agreed to keep that dialogue and its details private. Given that any transaction would require League approval, care has been taken so that this process will not be disruptive to the organization, in particular the football team, as it prepares for the upcoming season. We will share further details or make an announcement if it becomes necessary."

A new detail emerged Saturday, La Canfora reports: The price. According to a league source, the sale price of the Browns to Haslam will be in excess of $900 million but less than $1 billion. There have been no formal documents presented to the league yet, but given Haslam's pristine reputation, his present involvement in the NFL and his mega-wealth, the deal is still expected to happen in short order, quite possibly before the start of the regular season.

Haslam, who has a minority share in the Steelers, would become the managing partner of the Browns, league sources tell La Canfora, but the deal would not be finalized until league approval came via a vote of owners. La Canfora also reports that an ownership vote would be, essentially, a "formality" given that Haslam is already a minority owner.

The other lingering matter, La Canfora notes, would be resolving Haslam's stake in the Steelers. League sources tell La Canfora that Haslam's share of the Steelers could be absorbed my other managing partners.

The language used by Lerner in his release is also interesting: note he never says "purchase" or "sale" when discussing Haslam contacting him. Instead, he says "investment," which could also imply that Haslam is only buying part of the team.

Haslam has a field named after him at the University of Tennessee, his son is a Governer and he himself founded the chain of Pilot convenience stores.

"Haslam has a very close to the Mannings, according to league sources, and is a huge University of Tennessee booster," La Canfora writes. "He has been interested in owning a club for quite some time and, when there were rumblings about Peyton Manning eventually having an ownership stake in the Titans, etc., had Manning signed with that team, Haslam was expected to have been a part of that group as well, with them potentially one day taking over the club from Bud Adams."

What will be interesting is how the managment of team would shake out under Haslam. La Canfora reports that there is speculation in league circles that former Eagles president Joe Banner would be a part of Haslam's ownership team, which might make current Browns president Mike Holmgren redundant in that role.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Will Brinson on Twitter here: @willbrinson.

 
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