Charleston billionaire Ben Navarro has reached out to two-time Super Bowl winner Peyton Manning about joining his ownership group that is bidding on the Carolina Panthers, according to two sources with knowledge of the discussions.
Manning is still considering Navarro’s offer to become a limited partner, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the Panthers' sale.
Attempts to reach Manning and Navarro were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Manning, the former Indianapolis and Denver quarterback who won a record five MVPs, retired in 2016 after beating the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Manning has had multiple opportunities within or around the NFL since he retired two years ago.
Manning was reportedly approached by the Cleveland Browns last fall about a possible role in their front office, although Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer he never offered Manning a position.
Manning, who lives in Denver, also passed on two high-profile broadcast jobs in recent months.
The Sporting News reported that ESPN and Fox were each willing to pay Manning $10 million a year to serve as an analyst for “Monday Night Football” and “Thursday Night Football,” respectively.
It’s unclear what changes could be made in the Panthers’ front office after the transition of ownership. The position of president has been vacant since Danny Morrison resigned more than a year ago.
Manning, 42, remains one of the most marketable figures among current and former NFL players.
According to Forbes, Manning retired with $249 million in career football earnings and $400 million in total earnings, including endorsements. His corporate partners include Nike, Buick, DirecTV, Gatorade, Nationwide and Papa John’s, according to Forbes.
Navarro is one of four known bidders on the Panthers, who went on the market in January following an explosive Sports Illustrated report that detailed allegations of sexual and racial misconduct by owner and founder Jerry Richardson.
Navarro, the CEO of Sherman Financial Group, is thought to be the leading bidder at $2.6 billion, according to the New York Times. That would represent a record sale amount for a U.S. professional sports franchise.
The other bidders include hedge fund manager and Pittsburgh Steelers part-owner David Tepper; Canadian steel company CEO Alan Kestenbaum; and e-commerce entrepreneur Michael Rubin.
Bloomberg has reported that Rubin dropped out when bids exceeded $2.5 billion, but sources have told the Observer that he remains interested at the right price.
NFL officials had hoped owners could vote to approve the Panthers’ new owner at their spring meeting in Atlanta on May 21-23. But it’s unclear whether that is still a realistic timetable.
Mark Richardson, the son of Jerry Richardson and former Panthers president, told the Observer last month that Navarro is his choice as the next owner.
“I personally know Ben and I know what he stands for,” Richardson said. “I know where his heart and his head is, and what his commitments are. And I can’t imagine a better person being the next owner than him.”
Mark Richardson also said he would seriously consider remaining with the Panthers as a limited partner if Navarro wins the bid.
The NFL requires the controlling owner to acquire at least 30 percent of the equity in the club, although the league generally prefers the principal owner to have a bigger stake. The Richardson family owns 48 percent of the Panthers.
The league limits ownership group to a total of 25 individual partners. But bigger ownership groups require a longer vetting process as league officials examine each partner’s background and financial wherewithal.