There is a stronger buzz than ever about the Titans being sold, which has long been in the works but has not taken on a greater sense of urgency with the departure of Tommy Smith, who was the defacto acting owner following the passing of patriarch Bud Adams. It's long been known in NFL circles that the Titans could be purchased in 2015, and Smith's departure is now being read as a loud signal that a transaction is more likely than ever (I've been reporting on the strong likelihood the Titans are sold in 2015 since last fall).

Dave Tepper, a mega-billionaire (some estimate his worth well over $10B) who owns 5 percent of the Steelers, is seen by some league insiders as the front-runner to land the Titans. Fred Smith, of FedEx, has long been viewed as a top suitor as well, and he has very strong ties to Tennessee with his business centered in Memphis. But family members have told confidants recently that Smith, at age 70, is more or less out of the running to purchase the Titans, that it's not something he wants to pursue further, and that he is very happy with his ownership role with the Redskins. More people I've talked to about that prospect out here at the meetings, the more I tend to believe what Smith's camp is saying.

And there remain rumblings of one bizarre, remote possibility, which would involve a complicated franchise switch. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam badly, badly wanted to own the Titans, in his home state of Tennessee. But at the time the Browns became available a few years back, he had a decision to make -- wait for the Titans to come to the market, eventually, and hope to win a bidding war against giants like Smith and Tepper (sources said he was advised by the league that's a battle he might not be able to win), or move quickly to land the Browns. He chose Cleveland.

Is Jimmy Haslam angling to trade the Browns for ownership of the Titans?  (USATSI)
Is Jimmy Haslam angling to trade the Browns for ownership of the Titans? (USATSI)

In his perfect world, however, if someone other than Tepper ends up with the Titans, several highly-placed sources have suggested there might be backroom talks of a potential franchise swap with the Browns (Tepper is a Pittsburgh guy through and through, and would never want to own their rival in the Browns). It would be, ultimately, probably impossible, but it's a dynamic other owners are watching and many interested parties will be monitoring.

"Don't ignore the possibility of a swap with the Browns when that time comes," said one source who deals directly with many ownership groups. Some tax issues could prevent the Titans sale from happening as quickly as some others -- the Browns and Bills have changed hands quite quickly in recent years -- but make no mistake this has become more of a front-burner issue now with the NFL, and it would certainly behoove the NFL to have it wrapped up in 2015.

With the Bills fetching about $1.3B despite not having a long-term solution for a stadium, and the NFL possibly about to have two teams relocate to Los Angeles in 2016, getting the Titans sold for as close to $2B as possible -- given the growth of Nashville and the existence of a modern stadium there already with ample room still to be developed around it -- wouldn't help the league's cause at all in terms of relocation fees and the potential worth of LA franchises.