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NFL fears Pilot Flying J lawsuits could drain Jimmy Haslam, undermine Browns

Several team officials are reportedly saying they believe it may be extremely difficult for Jimmy Haslam III to keep his ownership of the Cleveland Browns. CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman reports that, because Haslam may be “ensnared by a myriad of lawsuits and legal actions,” Haslam could experience a significant drain to his finances, preventing him from keeping the team he purchased less than 12 months ago.

Haslam, and his family company Pilot Flying J, is the target of several lawsuits which stem from alleged practices of fraud and deceit. The FBI has been probing Haslam’s truck-stop company and has alleged massive impropriety based on targeted cost-plussing of select clients. A 120-page affidavit recently stated that Pilot Flying J sales employees withheld fuel price rebates and discounts in an attempt to boost company profitability as well as personal sales commissions. If Haslam loses the suits or is forced to settle for large sums, the league is concerned that he will not be fit to own an NFL franchise.

“This is more worrisome than people know,” said one team official who has familiarized himself with Haslam’s situation. In turn, sources tell Freeman that it may only be a matter of time before Haslam is forced to sell the Browns.

Haslam continues to claim his (and his company’s) innocence with regard to the allegations. He recently apologized to the city of Cleveland, stating that he is very embarrassed by the recent fallout. “We feel badly about it, and we’re very comfortable we’ll work through this situation,” he said.

[Related: Where is the line drawn with character concerns?]

  • TSR3000

    This scares me. Isn’t LA trying hard to land a team? If Jimmy is backed into a corner, what prevents him from selling to an LA group? Are there any safety nets in place to avoid that?

  • JK

    The great thing is even if that doesn’t happen (and he still loses the team) we’ll have to go through another owner wanting to get “his guys” in there and run it his way. Which means another turn over of almost everyone currently employed. Cleveland….

  • Mr0verk1ll

    Undermine the Browns? *snort*

  • Any legal process that Haslam will go through is going to take some time. If he has to sell the team to pay the legal bills, it’s not going to be a situation where he has to grab the first person who walks through the door.

    And the NFL will probably take a more active role in the potential next buyer. They obviously did not do their homework on Haslam; I don’t see Goodell making that same mistake twice.

    Or Randy Lerner can just pocket the 70 percent he already has and just accept the team back and resell it again down the road.

  • BenRM

    I can’t see the NFL allowing the Browns to leave Cleveland after Model did it once and they botched the Haslam purchase. That’s SUCH a huge black eye.

    Also, LA is a terrible place for pro football.

  • Natedawg86

    OK, I guess we will have to give Gilbert a call…

  • Get these crooks out of Cleveland. We get a crook for an owner and he goes and gets all these crooks in free agency and the draft. We didn’t even get the best crook in the draft, Honey Badger. Banner and Lombardi might not be crooks, but they sure do look like crooks. I hope we get an owner and management who are capable of running an NFL football team, unlike the last 2 regimes… you know, things like trying to win a game, having at least one NFL QB on the roster, and drafting players.

  • MrCleaveland

    Okay, we all know the drill: new owner = new front office = new coaches = new offense/defense = get rid of a bunch of players we just drafted and start all over again.

    I hear the Wildcat Offense and the 5-2 defense are making a comeback and will be all the rage. Can’t wait.

  • AMC

    I believe there was a contractual provision in Haslam’s deal with Lerner that specifically banned Haslam from moving the team from Cleveland as a condition of Lerner selling to Haslam.

  • nj0

    The Browns lease on the stadium runs through 2028. That applies to whomever owns the team. Moving would mean breaking that lease would mean unending legal battles would mean tons of bad press for the NFL would mean rest easy cause it is not going to happen.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I believe that Lerner made him sign a few things into the sale contract including keeping the team in Cleveland.

  • Wow, talk about hitting the panic button, people. We’re already talking about the Browns in LA? This is maddening. Repeat after me: This is going to be alright. Jimmy won’t end up broke or in jail. The case will be settled. The Browns will stay in CLE. We will have an NFL season. The Browns will play football (or close resemblance to). The sun will continue to shine…

  • TSR3000

    Haslam wouldn’t be moving the team.

  • Harv 21

    “Several team officials” [um, hey Mr. Freeman, which team, what level official takes your call, and exactly what more than the indictment contents could they know?] becomes a headline about a “NFL fear.”

    Fear of many possibilities felt by anonymous somebodies = probability of sale = moving = “Don’t just quietly read this fuzzy-sourced speculation, PANIC you damaged Cleveland fans, PANIC!!!

  • That’s what the Cleveland Rams certainly thought once upon a time.

    All kidding aside, besides the obvious reasons Cleveland sports fans freak out, one of the problems any fan has is that the news about anything and everything regarding any team we root for is out of our control. Yet, as fans, we are emotionally invested. So, that’s a toxic mix, right? You want something really bad – you are after all, a fan-atic – but everyone else is pulling the strings. You can talk about voting with your wallet, etc. but that still depends on something else you can’t control (the wallets of others).
    So, while I suspect the Browns will stay in Cleveland, it probably doesn’t do us much good to tell others who are freaking out not to freak out. It really comes from being a fan, and being a Cleveland fan in particular (where the worst case scenario often happens). It’s just part of the landscape.
    But, one other thing in favor of freaking out, is that freaking out now perhaps can generate the public organizing and pressure that actually might give the fan some control over the situation. Freaking out in that sense can even be a constructive response.
    That said, I am not freaked out and find myself more amused than anything; the sociopathy of the richest and the trust society puts in them never ceases to amaze me.

  • Mark

    I have been predicting it since the FBI raid. NFL will ask Jimmy to step down during the legal procedings. A family member will step in but Mr. Haslam wi have spent a billion dollars to over see one NFL draft. I actually hope he does lose the team. I’d rather follow a few more years of bad football than support a man with his business ethics.

  • paulbip

    Send him to jail and get rid of Banner and Lombardi! You can take the people they drafted along too. Hell, Bryant will have a cell waiting for them.

  • BenRM

    You really needed to use “by hook or by crook” somewhere in your rant. It would have made it significantly more awesome.

  • BenRM

    I’d rather have an owner with bad business ethics and a team with a NFL Championship because the owner’s business ethics don’t affect me, but a Browns championship would bring me great pleasure.

  • Seriously. The fear mongering that the media (with their unsupported speculation and supposition) plays on us Clevelanders pisses me off. They know that they can poke us vulnerable souls and then the panic ensues.

  • Yes sir. Panic is cathartic indeed and now part of our fabric. But every now and then, we need a little of the old “keep calm and carry on.” Ah well…I’m off my soapbox now.

  • Harv 21

    One of my fav local sports eras was the CSU basketball team under Kevin Mackey, the one that shocked everyone going to the Elite Eight. Many iffy characters with shady pasts like Mouse McFadden, the sketchy attempt to bring in Manute Bol and of course Mackey himself. Only lasted a couple of years but really electrified the city, and the program hasn’t come close to generating that sort of excitement since.

  • …correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Browns franchise generate enough $$ to chug along on its own?

  • Meaning, Haslam is super-duper wealthy. His company is the one that short-changed customers, so the vast majority of the financial impact of this is going to fall upon his company to make right. Any personal liability shouldn’t wipe him out, if it even gets to that point. The Browns, being a seperate legal entity, would be shielded from this nonsense.

  • humboldt

    Cynical Ben, cynical

  • saggy

    I don’t really classify the Honey Badger as a crook. he’s just a druggie.

  • saggy

    AMEN. Kenny “The Mouse”!!!

  • Stan W.

    The idea that their separation as business entities would protect the Browns is beside the point. The NFL franchise is a very valuable asset and something that can be converted to cash in short order. It’s the old adage of “throwing good money after bad” but if the bills get high enough it has to be done.