In addition to the Broncos now officially having new ownership, they will have another new decision-making presence. The team hired Damani Leech as its next president.
Leech, who spent the past three years as COO for NFL International, will join GM George Paton in reporting to Broncos CEO Greg Penner. The latter is the son-in-law of new owner Rob Walton. This will usher considerable change for the Broncos, who had Joe Ellis in place as their top executive for the past several years.
“Damani is highly regarded throughout the National Football League for his leadership, strategic vision and collaborative spirit,” the team said in a statement. “As a former college player with executive experience at both the NFL and NCAA levels, Damani understands the value of teamwork and knows what it takes to win—on and off the field.”
In addition to his NFL International role, Leech worked in the league office in different capacities over the past eight years. In the 17 years prior to that, Leech worked at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis.
Ellis was part of the three-person Pat Bowlen Trust that was in charge of the franchise, after the Hall of Fame owner stepped away from the team as he battled Alzheimer’s. Pat Bowlen died in 2019. Pat Bowlen’s youngest daughter, Brittany, was the NFL’s preferred candidate to succeed him. Days before Walton officially became the team’s owner, Brittany Bowlen stepped down from her post within the organization.
Penner said ownership will not become too involved in Broncos personnel decisions, via Troy Renck of Denver7 (on Twitter), being set to cede football ops-related responsibilities to Paton and HC Nathaniel Hackett. The new Broncos ownership was mum on Russell Wilson‘s contract situation, and although Penner mentioned (via Renck, on Twitter) Peyton Manning and John Elway as possible options to take on roles with the team, neither is firmly attached to anything. Both Hall of Famers were at the press conference this week introducing Walton and Co., however. All four ownership finalists spoke with Manning about a role with the team; Elway remains a consultant to the front office.
The Broncos have narrowed their prospective owner list to five, according to Mike Klis of 9News, who adds the first of those groups — the one fronted by New Jersey Devils owner and Philadelphia 76ers managing partner Josh Harris — met with Broncos executives and bank and transaction lawyers Thursday.
Harris’ group is believed to now have a big name attached. Magic Johnson has joined the group, according to Sportico (on Twitter). This is interesting considering Johnson partners with another of the Broncos’ ownership candidates — Todd Boehly — in a consortium that owns the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The NBA icon and former Lakers president of basketball operations has a 2.3% stake in the Dodgers, making a $50MM investment. The Broncos are expected to be sold for more than $4.5 billion, which will shatter an American sports record. The NFL has sought minority representation in the next Broncos ownership group, though Harris’ contingent is not believed to be the favorites. Walmart chairman Rob Walton is believed to be the frontrunner, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes his group and Boehly’s will visit soon (Twitter link). This process remains on track to be resolved before the season, RapSheet adds.
John Elway and Peyton Manning have been mentioned as interested parties, but Klis adds neither are expected to join a group until the bidding is settled. Elway remains interested in an advisory role with the eventual owner. The former Broncos GM currently serves as a consultant to successor George Paton.
A second round of bids has not yet taken place, per Klis. The highest bid must be accepted, with the winner then needing to be approved by three quarters of NFL owners. The last NFL sale ended with David Tepper‘s Panthers acquisition being approved by a 32-0 margin. Harris, 57, is well known in NFL circles, having bought the 5% stake in the Steelers that Tepper sold upon buying the Panthers.
The list of prospective Broncos owners has narrowed to five, according to Troy Renck of Denver7. An NFL-record bid should be expected here, and the winning price is set to smash the previous mark David Tepper set four years ago when he bought the Panthers for $2.275 billion.
Rob Walton is believed to have submitted an opening bid of more than $4 billion, according to Josh Kosman of the New York Post. A Walmart heir worth more than $70 billion, Walton, 77, is the favorite to acquire the AFC West franchise, per Kosman and Renck (Twitter link). The highest bid must be accepted, with the sale then going to a league vote.
The Broncos are only accepting bids north of $4 billion at this point, with Kosman adding the price is expected to be between $4.5-$5 billion. Even a $4 billion price would exceed the cost for any American sports franchise by a wide margin. The Brooklyn Nets were sold for $3.3 billion, representing the current high-water mark. The prospective buyer list has been narrowed to five, Renck adds. New Jersey Devils owner and Philadelphia 76ers managing partner Josh Harris remains in the running, with Lakers and Dodgers investor Todd Boehly heading a third ownership group that remains in contention, according to Sportico.
The Broncos went on the market in February; they are set to begin hosting candidates by early May, Renck adds. Team CEO Joe Ellis has said he wants a new owner in place before the 2022 season starts. Both John Elway and Peyton Manning have been linked to interest in being part of separate ownership groups. The latest reports have not mentioned either Hall of Famer, but Ellis said at the owners meetings the two are not out of the mix altogether.
“They’ve inquired is what I would tell you,” Ellis said, via Mike Klis of 9News. “Certainly, I think either one would be well-accepted by a group if a group or a potential owner would want to include them in the group. We’ll see where that shakes out.”
Although the Broncos have been in need at quarterback for six years, GM George Paton said Seahawks GM John Schneider initiated the Russell Wilson trade talks. A Schneider text to Paton got the ball rolling on the trade at the Senior Bowl, Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post notes.
Schneider expected the Broncos to be interested, and the talks heated up at the Combine. While Denver was also linked to Aaron Rodgers for nearly a year, Paton said Wilson was the team’s No. 1 priority throughout the offseason. The Broncos planned to do “anything it took” to acquire Wilson, Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com tweets. The deal sent the Seahawks five draft picks and three players, including quarterback Drew Lock, who as of now figures to factor in prominently in Seattle’s post-Wilson QB plans.
The Seahawks’ official statements, while complimentary of the nine-time Pro Bowler overall, included interesting language. All three indicated the quarterback wanting out catalyzed the trade. Jody Allen‘s statement said Wilson “made it clear” he wanted a change, with the owner’s short message also saying she hopes the next Seahawks squad will be “fully engaged.” (A previous report by The Athletic included select anonymous players accusing Wilson of checking out last season, which seems to conflict with the QB’s quest to return earlier than expected from thumb surgery.) Pete Carroll‘s statement backed Allen’s, as could be expected, and said Wilson “wanted something different.”
Wilson called the separation mutual, and Schneider said Wednesday he did not expect the future Hall of Fame passer to sign another Seahawks extension, via ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson (on Twitter). Wilson’s 2019 extension expires after the 2023 season, though the Broncos will be expected to re-sign him either this offseason or in 2023.
A conversation with Paton and Wilson’s faith in the Broncos’ roster prompted him to waive his no-trade clause and target Denver as a destination, O’Halloran adds, and Paton said the Broncos’ new quarterback was already en route to Denver when news of Rodgers’ extension surfaced last week. John Elway, who is now a Broncos consultant after 10 years as the team’s GM and one in a different executive role, was one of the few people Paton brought into the loop on the prospective Wilson trade.
In landing the 33-year-old Wilson, the Broncos will presumably have a longer run with this particular trade acquisition than they did with Peyton Manning or would have with Rodgers. Wilson is still planning to play past age 40.
John Elway stepped down from his general manager post after the 2020 season but retained a title as the Broncos’ president of football operations. The Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl-winning GM will shift to a new role in 2022.
Late owner Pat Bowlen brought Elway back to the Broncos shortly after the franchise’s ignominious Josh McDaniels stretch, and the team immediately bounced back with five straight AFC West titles and two Super Bowl berths. The team’s fortunes changed after Peyton Manning‘s 2016 retirement, with Elway’s inability to land a successor largely defining his final five seasons as GM. He led the way to hire Paton from the Vikings and will now offer input during the latter’s second offseason leading the front office.
Not long after the Broncos were officially put up for sale, the first two candidates to purchase the team have been named. According to multiple reports, media mogul Byron Allen and billionaire Alec Gores have plans to place a bid on the franchise.
Allen, whose bidding intention was first reported by Bloomberg, has been in the national spotlight dating back to his time on The Tonight Show. He has since acquired dozens of national and regional media outlets, raising the profile of the Allen Media Group, which he fully owns. The 60-year-old’s net worth is estimated to be $450MM, but he is said to be assembling a “who’s who” of fellow investors from across the business, sports and entertainment industries, though none of them have been identified as of now.
Allen’s name being linked to the Broncos is nothing new. As Troy Renck of Denver7 writes, he said, “[NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell and [Patriots owner] Robert Kraft came to me in November 2019 and asked me to take a good look at buying an NFL team. After serious consideration, I strongly believe I can effectuate positive changes”. Those “changes” are a reference to the fact that Allen, if successful, would become the NFL’s first Black owner.
The desire for added diversity in NFL ownership is a stated goal of Gooddell’s in this bidding process. “We would love to see a diverse owner of the team, whether that’s a person of color, or a female, or a Black man, we think that would be a really positive step for us. And something we’ve encouraged”, he said.
Allen’s interest in the Broncos isn’t simply because they are the only team up for sale, according to Mike Klis of 9News. “Oh my gosh. I love the Broncos“, he said in an interview. “And I have a great deal of respect for Pat Bowlen… I have an enormous respect for him and his family and what they’ve done… I wouldn’t get involved unless I believed I could grow on what they’ve built”.
Gores, meanwhile, is at the head of a triumvirate of investors – the other two being Dean Metropoulos and Mat Ishbia – involved in the competing bid. The 69-year-old owns the Gores Group, which is based in Beverley Hills and “purchases and sells companies”, according to the original report of his interest in the L.A. Times. The three men are reportedly valued at $10B. Gores’ brother Tom currently owns the Detroit Pistons.
Former Broncos quarterbacks John Elway and Peyton Manning are still believed to be involved in a bid, but not for a controlling share. Renck adds that “there is expected to be an additional minority-led group bidding as well”.
Any successful bid would require the majority owner to hold at least a 30% stake in the team, which would equate to a cost of $1.2B if the total sale price ends up at the estimated $4B mark.
Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams — the Dolphins, Giants and Broncos — on Tuesday, alleging racial discrimination, Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN.com reports. The Dolphins’ decision to fire him after three seasons, along with the Giants and Broncos choosing other candidates in 2022 and 2019, respectively, are at the root of this suit, which he filed in New York.
The Dolphins stunned most by firing Flores after back-to-back winning seasons, but the 2019 season — one in which the team was connected to tanking for the 2020 No. 1 overall pick — comes up frequently in Flores’ suit. The since-fired HC alleges Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him an additional $100K for each loss that season and that GM Chris Grier informed Flores that Ross was mad when the team’s wins down the stretch that season compromised its 2020 draft position. The Ross allegations are particularly explosive, and the Dolphins owner came up in another part of this lawsuit as well.
Miami likely fielded the NFL’s worst roster in 2019, having gutted it at the start of a rebuild, but Flores went 5-11 to push the team’s 2020 draft slot down to No. 5. The Dolphins were connected to Tua Tagovailoa for over a year, but they had changed course and wanted Joe Burrow after his record-setting Heisman campaign. Instead, the Bengals landed the LSU superstar and rebuffed the Dolphins’ attempt to trade up from No. 5.
Flores also alleged Ross wanted Flores to recruit a “prominent quarterback” at the end of the 2019 season — before free agency, which would have violated the NFL’s tampering rules. This, per Flores, included a meeting on a yacht before the legal tampering period. When Flores refused to go through with this meeting, he claims he was met with “treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with.” The Dolphins cited collaboration issues as part of the reason they fired Flores last month.
The unnamed quarterback is believed to be Tom Brady, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link). The Dolphins were linked to Brady, whom Flores spent over a decade with in New England, but were not believed to be among the finalists for the future Hall of Fame passer by the time the tampering period began.
The Giants hired Brian Daboll over Flores, who called his interview process with the team “a sham” meant to comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which mandates teams interview two minority candidates for HC positions. Flores, who spoke with the Giants before they hired GM Joe Schoen and later interviewed with Schoen and Co. in person, cites Bill Belichick texts about his pursuit of the job in his suit. In the messages, Belichick claimed that he had “Buffalo and NYG that you are their guy.” Flores’ former boss later texted his apologies for misunderstanding the situation. The suit claims Flores’ in-person meeting with the Giants came after they had already decided to hire Daboll, via the New York Post.
Flores also alleges members of the Broncos’ interview contingent, including former GM John Elway, arrived for his 2019 HC interview an hour late and hungover. The Broncos ended up hiring Vic Fangio to replace Vance Joseph that year, leading Flores to Miami. Calling Flores’ account “blatantly false,” the Broncos detailed their 2019 interview process with Flores (via the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala, on Twitter). The Dolphins and Giants have also rejected Flores’ claims.
Flores conducted a second interview with the Texans on Monday, and the Saints did go through with their interview Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett tweets. This lawsuit certainly complicates Flores’ chances of landing a job this year. His suit against the NFL aims, among other matters, for the league to increase the number of Black coordinators, incentivize the hiring and retention of Black GMs, HCs and coordinators and provide transparency of the salaries attached to GMs, HCs and coordinators.
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals,” Flores said. “In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
The NFL called Flores’ claims meritless in a swiftly released statement. The league changed its Rooney Rule multiple times during Flores’ Miami tenure but currently features just one team employing a Black head coach. Two others — Washington and the Jets — employ minority HCs.
“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” the NFL said in a statement, via Rapoport (on Twitter). “Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
Today, it has been made official that the Denver Broncos are up for sale. While this has long been expected, the announcement confirms the beginning of the sale process, which could very well end up as the most lucrative in NFL – if not North American professional sports – history.
In a pair of tweets, the team relayed statements from president Joe Ellis and the Pat Bowlen family. The former notes that the franchise has retained Steve Greenberg as a financial advisor and Joe Leccese as legal advisor for the sale process, which the team hopes to have finished by the beginning of the 2022 season. It concludes: “The Broncos are a special franchise that is part of the fabric of this region and whoever emerges as the new owner will certainly understand what the team means to our great fans and this community”.
The latter, meanwhile, acknowledges the fanbase’s role in the team’s success during Bowlen’s tenure as owner and CEO: “our family is overwhelmed with gratitude for what this organization and community have meant to us. There are truly no words to express our deep appreciation to all of Broncos Country for its unwavering support during the past four decades”. It continues, “From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for this incredible ride. It has been the honor of our lifetime”.
As Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post details, this sale will be somewhat unique in that it is an auction, the proceeds of which will go from trustees to the beneficiaries (seven of Bowlen’s eight children). Again, that was already know prior to today, but it is part of the reason this sale is expected to be so lucrative. It is widely believed, and has been for quite some time, that the price will end up around the $4B mark, part of which may be covered by Broncos icon John Elway. That figure would easily break the NFL record for sale price, which was set in 2018 when David Tepperbought the Panthers for $2.275B. It would also eclipse the North American record of $2.35B, set by the Brooklyn Nets’ sale.
While nothing is official yet regarding the sale of the Broncos, more details have emerged with respect to John Elway’s role in any new ownership group. He has publicly stated a desire to be involved – albeit in a minor role – with the new owners if at all possible.
As noted by Mike Klis of 9News.com, Elway is still very keen on playing a part in the franchise, even after stepping away from the GM role he served in from 2011 to 2020. When asked about the impending auction of the team, he said, “I’m sure there will be a lot of things going on, but I would definitely like to be involved”.
He is making clear, however, that any position he takes on will not be at the forefront of the team. Klis notes that the 61-year-old “doesn’t have the type of financial wherewithal to become the controlling owner” given the Broncos’ estimated value of roughly $4B, but “he may have enough to invest as a limited partner”. That would certainly be Elway’s preference, as he added, “I’m not looking to be the face of the franchise. Whoever puts up that kind of money and whoever is that owner, it’s their franchise… My hope would be to help support the new owner”.
Those comments continue a back-and-forth trend for Elway concerning his ownership interest. Shortly after Pat Bowlen‘s death, he indicated he was not looking for an ownership role. This past September, however, it was reported he was attempting to put together a group to buy the team. In any event, the sale is not expected to be announced until after a new head coach is hired. It remains to be seen, then, if the Broncos legend will have his ownership desire come to fruition.
In July, when the lawsuit filed by two of Pat Bowlen‘s daughters challenging the validity of the Pat Bowlen Trust was dismissed, the sale of the Broncos became a real possibility. Since then, most of the reporting on the matter has indicated that the club would indeed be sold out of the Bowlen family, and we recently heard that the transaction could be completed by this spring.
So when team attorney Dan Reilly recently said that the trustees of the Pat Bowlen Trust would be moving forward with the “ownership transition process” (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk), it was simply a confirmation of the prevailing belief that the Broncos would soon be sold. Team president Joe Ellis also said that he would soon turn his attention to “transitioning ownership.”
Those comments were made in the wake of a court order regarding the right of first refusal agreement that Bowlen had entered into with Edgar Kaiser when the former purchased the team from the latter in 1984. As Mike Klis of 9News.com tweets, a Denver court has determined that the agreement is no longer valid or enforceable in any respect, and that it has terminated in its entirety. As such, the last real obstacle to a sale has been removed.
As expected, franchise icons Peyton Manning and John Elway will be involved in the process, as part of separate bidding groups (Twitter link via Troy Renck of Denver 7). Manning is said to be eyeing both a minority ownership stake as well as a role in the management of the team, and Elway — who served as the club’s GM from 2011-20 before being transitioned to a different role upon the hiring of George Paton last year — is reportedly interested in staying with the franchise in some capacity, whether as a part owner or something else.
However, Renck is clear that this will not be a popularity contest. The top bid must be accepted regardless of who makes it, and it has been reported that the sale will net around $4B or so. Per Ellis, the formal announcement regarding ownership will come shortly after the team announces its next head coach. The impending sale is not expected to be a deterrent for any HC candidate.