Browns owner Randy Lerner issued a statement Friday morning acknowledging active negotiations with Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam III. Hours later, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported sale of the team was "close."
According to the report, which cites a league source, a guarantee that the team wouldn't be moved from Cleveland was required before sale talks could begin.
Lerner took control of the Browns in 1999. Reports first surfaced in May that a portion of the team might be available. His statement doesn't stipulate whether Lerner would remain majority owner if he'd be selling the franchise outright. Haslam is currently a minority investor in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"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," Lerner said. "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."
Haslam, 55, is president of Pilot Flying J Travel Centers, which developed from a small gas station in Virginia to a nation travel center and truckstop chain. The Haslam family is one of the largest private donors to the University of Tennessee.
Haslam's father, James Haslam Jr., was a starting tackle at Tennessee and graduated in 1952. His brother, Bill, is the current governor of Tennessee.