Irsay: Commanders sale needs 'several more weeks of discussions'

EAGAN, Minn. -- Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, a member of the NFL's finance committee, called it a goal of the league for the Washington Commanders' sale to be completed by the start of the regular season.

Irsay said the transaction is complicated and needs more work before the committee recommends the other owners vote for approval.

"We're hopeful that we can get it done," Irsay said Monday at the spring owners meetings. "But ... it's going to take probably several more weeks of discussions before we see if we can reach the goal line there. We're hopeful; we want to keep working in that direction."

He later said, "That would be great to have a new ownership group in before the season opens."

Commanders co-owners Dan and Tanya Snyder reached an agreement with a group led by Josh Harris on May 12 for $6.05 billion, a record sale price for a pro sports franchise. League sources have told ESPN they had concerns with the amount of debt involved.

"There are certain criteria that has to be met," Irsay said. "That's just the way it is. It's not there yet. It doesn't mean it can't get there. It's complicated."

Irsay said the NFL, the Snyders and the Harris group are motivated to complete the deal.

"You hope that carries the day," Irsay said. "Everyone knew the rules up front, what the league rules are. Everyone is trying eagerly with the same amount of effort. The Harris group knows we have to stay within the guidelines."

The entire ownership group was not briefed on the sale Monday; the owners are expected to receive an update Tuesday after the finance committee meets to discuss the situation. But Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed optimism.

"I would anticipate it being done," Jones said. "These are outstandingly qualified owners. There are a handful of qualified owners [in the group], but the significant ones we read about are very qualified and that always rules the day on getting it ... cleared with the NFL."

"By any definition it sounds like a long process, but this is a significant thing for everybody involved, certainly the fans of Washington," Jones added. "Doing it right and having people of this caliber that are involved is worth the wait."

Jones echoed Irsay's concern about making sure the deal's structure adheres to the NFL guidelines.

"It's too important to have the right structure for them coming in because they'll benefit from the way it's been structured for everybody else in the past that has come in," Jones said.

Under NFL rules, the primary buyer must put down at least 30% of the cost and carry no more than $1 billion in debt. A source with the Harris group said the league hasn't expressed concerns over the bid to the consortium, and noted that the net worth of the group is approximately $100 billion.

However, another key factor is the number of limited partners in the group. There are at least 12, all of whom must be vetted financially and through background checks.

"It just takes time," Irsay said. "It's a little more complex than a simpler deal."

Irsay said the league won't change the rules to accommodate new bidders as the price of franchises increases. The Panthers were sold in 2018 for $2.275 billion; the Broncos, the next team to be sold, went for $4.65 billion in August.

"We've thought long and hard about where the rules are at this point," Irsay said. "They're there for a reason. Like the [Denver] sale, we're looking for the same sort of cooperation."

The Denver sale took a while to go through. Rob Walton entered into an agreement to buy the Broncos on June 7; the finance committee didn't recommend approval until July 27, and the other owners didn't vote until Aug. 9.

Walton purchased the team with his daughter and son-in-law. Their group had only three limited partners: Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, Starbucks board chair Mellody Hobson and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It's possible, Irsay said, that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calls for a special session after July 4 to vote on the Commanders' sale.

"Let's put the dot over the 'i' and put the cross over the 't' and make sure we get that done right," Irsay said. "They're very enthusiastic about becoming owners. They're really fired up to have a chance to take over the team before the season starts."

Because of the rising franchise costs, Irsay said the league will discuss potential policy changes to allow institutions as primary buyers.

"It's a changing world and a changing league," Irsay said. "In the future, that's something we can continue to look at. We haven't gone there yet. You don't [want] faceless limited partners, but at the same time there are pros and cons to it so we'll continue to evaluate it in the next several years."

The Snyder were not present at the owners meetings. Dan Snyder hasn't attended a league meeting since 2019.