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Timing, path to approval boosted David Tepper's Panthers bid

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Major changes not expected with new Panthers owner (1:07)

Chris Mortensen breaks down what David Tepper's expected purchase of the Panthers for $2.2 billion means for the franchise. (1:07)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Because of the confidentiality involved in the sale of the Carolina Panthers, there have been discrepancies in the reporting of how hedge fund billionaire David Tepper finds himself set to be approved as the new owner on Tuesday at the league's spring meetings in Atlanta.

Multiple sources involved in the negotiations shared the following details to ESPN.com.

The NFL encouraged Panthers owner Jerry Richardson to choose his successor before the start of the Atlanta meetings to facilitate approval of the sale -- the winner of the bidding process needs three-fourths approval of the 32 owners.

The league wants to release its findings from an already five-month investigation into Richardson for sexual and workplace misconduct and it wants Richardson to complete the sale before releasing the results so the findings would not influence the price. The process began in December when Sports Illustrated reported four alleged victims said they received a financial settlement from Richardson in exchange for their silence.

A source told ESPN's Seth Wickersham that the results of the investigation are expected to be released after the close of the sale in July.

"Our sense was generally the league was pretty motivated to move things forward," a source said.

The bidding came down to Tepper and Charleston, South Carolina, billionaire Ben Navarro. Tepper, 60, had the easiest path to approval because the league already had vetted him as a 5-percent owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is worth $122.5 million based on Forbes' estimated $2.45 billion value of the team.

With an estimated net worth of $11 billion, by far the most of any other potential owners without minority ownership help, Tepper also had the easiest path to writing a check for the winning bid of $2.275 billion without taking on minority partners.

Navarro's final bid was $50 million to $60 million more than Tepper’s bid, according to sources, and while the NFL vetting process of Navarro had begun it would have been difficult to finish the work in time for the upcoming meetings.

Also, the bidding never reached $2.5 billion, as Bloomberg reported early in the process, or $2.6 billion, as others have reported. Navarro seriously indicated at one point early in the sale that he would consider going that high, but only verbally and never in writing.

Navarro ultimately settled in at the $2.3 billion range, not wanting to overpay for the franchise valued by Forbes at $2.3 billion.

"They got an appropriate price," one source said, noting the sale of future NFL teams might go for about 5 percent below the Forbes value.

Multiple sources said the New York investment bank Allen & Company, hired to negotiate the deal, overestimated the value of the team and tossed out Navarro's verbal offer as the market price to drive the price up. The company also indicated the price could reach $3 billion.

It never happened. Once Navarro realized the value was closer to $2.3 billion he fell back in line with other bids that began in the low $2 billion range. Tepper's initial bid was about $2.1 billion.

Also, Richardson never met with prospective owners, letting his representatives handle everything.

Tepper emerged early as the front-runner over Navarro. Michael Rubin, the billionaire owner of Fanatics, and Canada-based steel industry tycoon Alan Kestenbaum also were involved in the bidding.

But Rubin, according to sources, was told at one point that he and bidding partner Joe Tsai would have to present an offer "significantly higher" than $2.5 billion to have a shot even though Navarro never put an official bid that high on paper.

Rubin wasn't willing to do that, sources said, but would have gone as high as $2.3 billion. However, once told it would require more than $2.5 billion, there was no interest in getting back in the process.

Navarro at one point appeared to overtake Tepper as the favorite. He had the backing of Richardson's son, Mark, and several of Richardson's close friends such as George Dean Johnson. His Carolina ties as the owner of South Carolina-based Sherman Financial Group also was a factor.

Richardson, a native of North Carolina and long-time resident of South Carolina, founded the Panthers in 1993 as the team of the Carolinas.

"Richardson wanted to sell the team to Navarro," two sources said.

But because of more complicated elements in Navarro's financial plan to purchase the team, it would have made approval at the upcoming meetings tight, if not impossible.

Though Navarro had the financing in place, according to sources, it wasn't as simple as writing a check.

Tepper could write one without needing partners or technical waivers, which would have taken more time to put together. That made him the ultimate winner.

A Sports Illustrated article published in late April in which one of Richardson's alleged victims detailed how Richardson hurt her and called the NFL's investigation a "farce" also played a role in Tepper being selected.

The timing of Navarro being told the sale was moving in a direction that didn't include him came a few weeks after the SI article was published.

Though the upcoming league meetings have been the target for completing the sale since the March meetings in Orlando, bidders weren't given "concrete" deadlines at the start of the process, sources said.

At one point, sources said the deal was hoped to be done by the March meetings. Once that fell through, there was a strong push to get it done by the Atlanta meetings.

Others who initially were in the process at that point didn't have time to re-mobilize their efforts or weren't interested in re-entering because of how the process went.

So in the end, this week's meeting became the driving force to complete the deal with Tepper instead of Navarro.