Nfl Hoping For Rapid Approval Of Lurie's Deal To Buy The Eagles The League Doesn't Want To See Norman Braman Still In Charge On Draft Day.

Posted: April 10, 1994

While Jeffrey Lurie smiles and says all the right things for the TV cameras at Veterans Stadium, his NFL allies in New York are working feverishly behind the scenes to get quick league approval of his purchase of the Eagles.

Timing, of course, is everything here.

With compensation picks for lost free agents, plus their own selections, the Eagles could end up with as many as seven of the first 90 picks in the April 24-25 draft.

And, although outgoing owner Norman Braman said on the day that he sold the Eagles that he would be in the team's war room on draft day, it now is clear that Lurie - and the NFL - want no part of that scenario.

Instead, they want Lurie to be the navigator of his own destiny. And the only way for that to happen is to let him have control of the draft.

"We think that is only fair to Jeff," said Robert Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants and an influential member of the NFL finance committee.

The committee, chaired by Tom Benson, the eccentric owner of the New Orleans Saints, must review and approve the sale first. Before voting on whether to recommend approval, it will receive a report from the NFL's security and executive offices, which will investigate Lurie's personal and

financial background.

"The most important thing we want to know is what kind of person the new owner is and whether he has the financial ability to carry the deal through," said Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and a member of the committee.

Tisch and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue have been trying to get Lurie involved in the NFL for at least two years. With that kind of backing, Lurie is expected to fly through the approval process.

Indeed, last year, the NFL powers that be made it known to the Maryland officials assembling a potential ownership group for a new franchise in Baltimore that they preferred Lurie to a group headed by millionaire gadfly Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass.

Lurie was asked to meet with Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer about heading up a possible ownership group. But Baltimore was never in serious contention for one of the two new franchises, which eventually were awarded to Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.

The NFL knows Lurie's financial background. He is heir to the Smith family fortune in Boston. The family owns General Harcourt, Inc.

And the league knows the details of Lurie's deal with Braman. The attorney who put the deal together, Daniel Kaplan of Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn, is a friend of Tisch and Tagliabue.

Sources say that league officials reviewed the details of the deal as soon as Braman returned from a cruise in the Far East two weeks ago. And last month, at the NFL's annual winter meetings, Tagliabue gave Lurie a glowing endorsement as league officials let it be known that they hoped for a quick resolution to Lurie's negotiations with Braman.

Tagliabue, Tisch and Kaplan are working to quickly schedule a meeting of the finance committee to speed up the approval process.

After receiving a report on Lurie from the league office, the finance committee - operating much like a congressional committee - will interview Lurie, review his application, and pass it on to the full NFL membership with a recommendation for approval or disapproval.

In recent NFL history, the finance committee has not recommended disapproval of an ownership transfer - evidence that once Tagliabue and league president Neal Austrian give the OK, the owners' approval is nearly automatic.

Last month, Tagliabue and Austrian even worked out a compromise to allow Blockbuster Video tycoon Wayne Huizenga to buy the Miami Dolphins from the Robbie family.

If the league's prohibition against cross-ownership of pro sports franchises had been followed, Huizenga would have been rejected. He owns baseball's Florida Marlins and hockey's Florida Panthers. But, after several days of deliberations, the finance committee decided to bend the prohibition to allow Huizenga to buy the Dolphins. He will keep his stake in the club in a trust while the language in the rules is changed.

The situation is similar to what Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau once said about a grand jury: "A district attorney can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if he wants to."

Likewise, the commissioner's office can get a prospective owner approved if it wants to badly enough.

So approval of the sale is nearly guaranteed. But when? Will Lurie get control before the draft?

"It's very conceivable," Hunt said.

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