The Cleveland Browns are very close to being sold to a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The sale of the team to Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam is well down the road, a source with close knowledge of the talks told FOXSportsOhio.com on Friday. The Steelers acknowledged the discussions but had no further comment. Browns president confirmed the sale discussions Friday afternoon.
According to the source, the sale is contingent on “a complete and unconditional personal assurance that the team can never be moved from the city of Cleveland.”
Team owner Randy Lerner asked for that assurance before he heard any financial proposal. Holmgren also confirmed that assurance, saying the Browns were not going anywhere.
Details of the sale were not known, other than it is for a controlling interest of the team.
Lerner dropped the bombshell Friday morning in a rare statement that he personally released:
“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.
“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.”
Though Lerner did not directly address a sale, two league sources said logic would indicate Lerner is indeed talking about selling the Browns. They pointed out that Lerner is a publicly cautious man who would never release a statement like he did without a serious and credible reason.
It also would be highly unlikely and illogical that a minority owner of one team would sell his interest in the team to become a minority owner of another.
When a sale is completed, the tenure of Lerner and his family would end.
The Lerner family has owned the Browns since Al Lerner brought the team back in 1999, after Art Modell had moved his team to Baltimore. Randy took over running the team when his father died in 2002.
Haslam owns and operates the Pilot Travel Centers, the largest operator of truck stops and travel centers in the country. He has been a minority partner in Pittsburgh since 2008.