Ben Navarro

NFC South Notes: Panthers, Saints, Bucs

David Tepper‘s $2.275 billion Panthers purchase price was not the high bid during this process. Albert Breer of SI.com reports Ben Navarro‘s bid came in closer to Jerry Richardson‘s desired $2.6 billion price. But NFL owners had long preferred Tepper, a part-owner of the Steelers, to Navarro. Richardson wanted the team to go to a Carolinian, and Navarro is a Charleston, S.C., native. However, Tepper was able to make his bid mostly in cash, whereas Navarro had to bring in partners some in the league’s power structure found unsatisfactory. The NFL “didn’t trust his money,” Breer writes, paving the way for Tepper. A credit card company mogul, Navarro encountered scrutiny from other owners, to the point he had to hire a PR firm to navigate obstacles during this high-profile pursuit. Additionally, fellow bidder Michael Rubin assembled a group of potential buyers that turned off some owners, Breer reports.

Here’s the latest from the NFC South, which involves the highest-profile player in the NBA’s Pacific Division.

  • Rubin attempted to bring in Steph Curry, a Charlotte native, but the NBA nixed that, Breer reports. A Curry/Rubin venture would have violated an NBA bylaw that prevents players from forming business partnerships with owners from other teams. The Golden State Warriors’ two-time MVP would have been working with a part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in Rubin, and even though they would have been partners in another sport, that evidently wouldn’t have mattered.
  • Tepper will try to run the Panthers like the Steelers; he’s unlikely to change Carolina’s football operations at this point. In preparation for this entrance into the franchise-ownership game, Tepper consulted Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and VP of football and business administration Omar Khan about Panthers GM Marty Hurney and HC Ron Rivera. And Breer reports the Pittsburgh execs were staunch supporters of both Carolina decision-makers.
  • The Saints will convert UDFA tight end Nate Wozniak to tackle, Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com reports. A University of Minnesota product who caught just 28 passes in four seasons, the 6-foot-10 Wozniak weighed only 268 pounds at his pro day. He’s coming in north of 280 now and is aiming to get to 300, per Katzenstein, who adds other teams pursued Wozniak in hopes of converting him to tackle.
  • A Buccaneers staffer since 2014, Brian McLaughlin will ascend to the role of a national scout. Jenna Laine of ESPN.com notes McLaughlin will be part of National Football Scouting, of which 15 NFL teams are affiliated, and piece together early prospect rankings that help set up organizational scouting reports.

Panthers Bidder Wants To Involve Peyton Manning

Panthers bidder Ben Navarro has made contact with former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning regarding a limited ownership role if Navarro were to land the Carolina franchise, reports Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, who adds Manning is considering the offer.

Manning has long been connected to NFL front office openings, but Person’s report doesn’t mention any possibility that Manning would be involved in personnel decisions. That could certainly change, of course, if Navarro does indeed secure the Panthers, as he’d likely want to remake the club’s front office. General manager Marty Hurney recently had the interim tag removed from his title, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be asked to stick around once new ownership is in place.

Manning, 42, hasn’t made a re-entrance to NFL life since retiring following the 2015 campaign. He was recently linked to a position within the Browns’ front office, but Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam denied ever making Manning an offer. Earlier this year, both ESPN and FOX heavily pursued Manning as a television analyst, but he rejected overtures from both networks.

The remaining bidders for the Panthers include Steelers minority owner David Tepper, steel magnate Alan Kestenbaum, and entrepreneur Michael Rubin, according to Person.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Two Bidders Left For Panthers?

The Panthers could be close to having a new owner. One of the bidders, Steelers minority owner David Tepper, has dropped out of the race, Ken Belson of the New York Times reports.

Belson notes only two bidders — Ben Navarro, who owns the Sherman Financial Group investment firm, and Alan Kestenbaum, Bedrock Industries’ CEO — are left. Michael Rubin bowed out of the pursuit last month.

A hedge-fund billionaire, Tepper was the buyer whom Belson reports many NFL owners sought as the new Panthers owner. A vote on a new owner is expected to be held at the late-May league meetings in Atlanta. Belson writes that a winning bid could be chosen by the end of this month. Twenty-four owners must vote in favor of the new owner for the sale to be finalized.

Navarro is believed to have submitted a $2.6 billion bid, Belson reports, and it’s unclear if he will cover that price without other investors. A $2.6 billion sale would be an NFL record. A Navarro vote might not be as easy for the owners, with Belson reporting at least three have voiced concerns about him buying the Panthers. Albert Breer of SI.com tweets Navarro vetting’s been ongoing for a few weeks. Tepper had enough capital to buy the team without other investors being involved, which appealed to some NFL owners, and wouldn’t need to be approved since he already is a part-owner of the Steelers.

The Panthers aren’t a threat to relocate in the near future, per Belson, but he adds that there won’t be many restrictions to prevent the buyer from moving the franchise. The Panthers are bound to Bank of America Stadium only through this season.

Extra Points: Panthers, Broncos, Cravens, Jets, Titans

Labeled as a frontrunner in the bidding to become the new Panthers owner, businessman Ben Navarro will make a visit to the team’s facilities next week, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports (Twitter link). Person also notes another suitor, Alan Kestenbaum, was in on Wednesday.

A vote on a new owner is expected to take place during late-May meetings in Atlanta, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, who adds a reported sale price of $2.5 billion could potentially be a bit inflated. The last franchise that was sold, the Bills in 2014, went for $1.4 billion.

According to Albert Breer of the MMQB, Navarro is already being vetted by the NFL. The South Carolina businessman is the founder of Sherman Financial, but some owners have had concerns about how Navarro made his money.

Navarro and Kestenbaum are joined by Steelers minority owner and hedge-fund billionaire David Tepper as the perceived top contenders to acquire the franchise. The reported sale price has already helped one potential suitor, Michael Rubin, withdraw his name from the running. Rubin’s group reportedly included Sean “Diddy” Combs and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Thanks to a video produced by Sports Illustrated, we have some insights into the offers received by cornerback Malcolm Butler before he agreed to sign with the Titans. Early on, the Bears pitched him on a three-year, $30MM deal while the Texans offered a one-year contract (value unknown). It seems that Tennessee greatly outbid the other suitors after signing him to a five-year, $61.25MM deal with $24MM fully guaranteed.
  • For their offseason so far, the Jets have received a grade of B- from ESPN’s Rich Cimini. Considering the team whiffed in its pursuit of Kirk Cousins, that’s not a bad grade to receive. Cimini cites, among other things, the team’s addition of Trumaine Johnson as the team’s most significant offseason signing so far.
  • Su’a Cravens, who was acquired by the Broncos from the Redskins earlier this week, told Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post he wanted to play for a team that wanted him. “I can tell that Denver actually wanted me on the team. It wasn’t just, ‘This is smart for our team,” he said. Cravens sat out the entire 2017 season as a member of the Redskins. “I never felt like I could be myself with the Redskins. It’s a blessing obviously to be drafted by the Redskins and I will always thank them for giving me my opportunity. But I just think after my rookie year when I had those injuries, I just felt like things kind of changed.

Latest On Panthers’ Sale

The process of selling the Panthers franchise is moving along at an expected rate, and a vote on a new owner is expected to take place during late-May meetings in Atlanta, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, who adds a reported sale price of $2.5 billion could potentially be a bit inflated.

Per Newton, the two most likely candidates to purchase the Panthers remain South Carolina businessman Ben Navarro and Steelers minority owner/hedge fund billionaire David Tepper. Private equity manager Alan Kestenbaum and businessman Michael Rubin are also considered suitors, and Kestenbaum will visit Charlotte on Wednesday to tour the Carolina facilities, reports Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

Three other unidentified candidates may have also interest in the Panthers, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, who speculates North Carolina software mogul Jim Goodnight and British businessman Joe Lewis could be in the running. Cowboys executive Stephen Jones said three “really qualified” suitors are part of the Carolina bidding process, but didn’t reveal those individuals.

NFC South Notes: Falcons, Panthers, Bucs

The Falcons have opened extension talks with quarterback Matt Ryan, general manager Thomas Dimitroff told reporters, including Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (Twitter link), at the combine today. Ryan, 32, has only one year left on his current contract at a cost of $19.25MM in base salary. On an annual basis, Ryan ranks just 14th among quarterbacks, but any new deal will likely catapult him into $28MM+ range. Atlanta has previously expressed a willingness to make Ryan the highest-paid signal-caller in the NFL, so Ryan and his camp may prefer to wait until free agent passer Kirk Cousins inks a new contract (expected to be worth ~$30MM annually) before working out his own pact.

Here’s more from Atlanta and the rest of the NFC South:

  • Left tackle Jake Matthews is set to play on his fifth-year option in 2018, and Dimitroff indicated the Falcons are interested in signing both Matthews and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to multi-year deals, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). Matthews has settled in as an above-average tackle since being selected sixth overall in the 2014 draft. He’s scheduled to earn $12.496MM next season. Jarrett, likewise, has developed into one of the league’s best interior defenders, and graded 14th among 122 defensive tackles a year ago, according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and linebacker Kemal Ishmael will both be allowed to hit free agency, Dimitroff said today (Twitter links via McClure). That doesn’t necessarily mean Atlanta doesn’t have interest in retaining either player, but the club will allow Gabriel and Ishmael to gauge their value on the open market. Last season, Gabriel regressed from his excellent 2016 campaign, while Ishmael spent the majority of his time on special teams.
  • Bids for the Panthers franchise haven’t yet been entered, but the sale of the club is likely to be wrapped up in time for the NFL’s spring meeting in late May, report David Newton and Darren Rovell of ESPN.com. At that point, the league’s finance committee must approve any potential deal, and 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners must vote to go forward with the sale. Presently, the only two serious contenders to purchase the Panthers from current owner Jerry Richardson are hedge fund manager/minority Steelers owner David Tepper and South Carolina businessman Ben Navarro, per the ESPN scribes.
  • While the Buccaneers have had conversations with free agent backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, they aren’t nearing a new deal, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter links). Fitzpatrick, 35, managed a 2-1 record in relief of starter Jameis Winston last season while completing 59% of his passes for six touchdowns and three interceptions. He earned $3MM for his year of work in Tampa Bay.

First Prospective Panthers Buyer Emerges

The Panthers are the only NFL team up for sale, and the club may have its first serious bidder. South Carolina businessman Ben Navarro is “actively” exploring a potential purchase of the Carolina franchise, according to Jourdan Rodrigue and Katherine Peralta of the Charlotte Observer.Panthers Helmet (Featured)

Incumbent owner Jerry Richardson put the Panthers on the market earlier this year following allegations that he not only sexually harassed female employees, but used a racial slur against a team scout. Richardson ceded day-to-day control of the club in December, but he remains under NFL investigation. Carolina, of course, is also without a long-term general manager, as interim GM Marty Hurney is dealing with his own off-field issues.

Navarro, for his part, formerly worked at Citigroup, but now runs a debt collection firm in Charleston, per the Observer scribes. Naarro’s father, Frank, has ties to the football realm, as he served as head coach at four colleges — Williams, Columbia, Walsh, and Princeton — from 1963-84.

While the price to acquire the Panthers is unknown, the last NFL team to be sold — the Bills — went for more than $1 billion. Per NFL rules, Navarro would need to be able to purchase at least 30% of the Panthers up front.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.