The strange and winding saga of the sale of the Carolina Panthers – a process that began suddenly in the aftermath of Jerry Richardson's sexual harassment scandal – is soon coming to an end. According to numerous league sources, the new owner, pending ownership approval, could be announced as soon as early next week. At this point I'd be shocked if Steelers minority owner David Tepper is not the winning bidder.
At various times throughout this ordeal Tepper, who is uniquely qualified and far and away the wealthiest of all bidders involved in the potential sale, has told confidants that he was out. He's been frustrated and annoyed at how things have played out at times and has been firm with his evaluation on what the franchise is worth. And, according to league sources, his patience and resolve are about to be rewarded. Even a week ago some close to Tepper believed he was out for good, but the investment bankers running this sale have continually come back to him and there have remained significant and lingering questions about the other bidding groups and Tepper could be back in Carolina by this weekend to wrap up the sale.
Panthers sources said they, too, were beginning to see signs that in fact this process was reaching a point where a final candidate had emerged. And while they were not privy to specifics all of my reporting points to Tepper, who has the wherewithal to literally stroke a check for $2 billion, getting the team. He has long been the preferred choice among the bigwigs at the league office and among many prominent owners and is essentially already vetted, and his finances are impeccable.
Tepper is the only person involved in this process who is essentially already fully vetted and could be approved by the full ownership at the May (21-23) meeting.
No one I spoke to around the league believed that Peyton Manning would be joining the ownership group of local Carolina businessman Ben Navarro, and at this point it would be a surprise if any group was actually in position to finalize this purchase in short order outside of Tepper. In the end, the NFL may be able to trumpet that the sale price of the Panthers was in the $2.4B-$2.5B range, one well-placed source theorized, by including a clause in the sale price that Tepper would have to pay an additional $200-$300M should he move the team within a certain time frame, or something along those lines.
But Tepper bidding above the $2.1B-$2.2B he has been willing to spend is unlikely. And anyone other than him cementing a deal to purchase the Panthers by next week is equally unlikely.
Patricia situation could change coach hiring process
There is plenty of buzz going on around the league about the Detroit Lions hiring Matt Patricia with no knowledge of his prior indictment for sexual assault, albeit from 22 years ago, and none of it is positive. I can't imagine any other head coaches get hired in this league without a thorough scrubbing of their entire legal record, and frankly it's stunning that isn't already the case around the league.
Think of all of the hours and dollars spent to investigate every little nuance of potential draft picks, many of whom won't ever stick around or make big money or be face-of-the-franchise guys. Yet a team could be blindsided by a revelation as troubling as this – this is not about guilt or innocence but about the nature with which this situation was revealed both to the team and the public – in this era and at a time where society seems to be finally be rallying around victims of sexual abuse to some degree.
"How the hell does this even happen?" asked a high-ranking official with one NFL club. "I know that (GM Bob) Quinn goes way back with him in New England, but to find out about this in the middle of the night from a newspaper? To have no idea about it whatsoever?"
It is mind-boggling, honestly. It's one thing if the team thoroughly investigated it or was ahead of the story and hadn't been caught off guard. This is quite another. And for a rookie head coach to have something like this come out this way, at a time when he'll be expected to be a beacon for young players and set an example, isn't something that will just go away easily. Patricia was less than forthcoming about all of this – regardless, again, of culpability – and the manner in which this became public casts an initial shadow.
Around the league
Keep an eye on this Joe Flacco/Lamar Jackson situation. It isn't getting the national attention that the overt Big Ben/Mason Rudolph apparent blood feud is garnering, but this has the potential to get sideways. Flacco has been ignoring the rookie, according to the rookie, and I don't think this rookie is going to bow down or kiss any rings – nor should he – and I don't see Flacco being invested in a mentor role (nor should he be given his career in Baltimore is in the balance). Flacco is never going to get down the muck the way Roethlisberger has, and he'll be passive-aggressive about the situation at worst – without the outward disdain for the Rudolph selection that Roethlisberger seems to be relishing in – but it won't take much for Jackson to win over the fans and this could get prickly, quickly … If I am the Seattle Seahawks I'm trying to get Dez Bryant for $5M a year over Brandon Marshall for $2M or whatever he is looking for. Bryant to the Seahawks has long made the most sense to me of all possible locales for both players and team … It's ridiculous how stagnant the safety market remains, and I'd point back to my column from about six weeks ago as to why. NFL teams are systematically avoiding Eric Reid and seemingly pretending he is not a free agent – sounds like a certain quarterback who played in the Super Bowl like five years ago – and in doing so continue to shun a host of other quality players at that position as well. How would it look if all the decent safeties were off the market and only Reid remained? Kenny Vaccaro and Ron Parker and a handful of other qualified veterans are wondering the same thing.