ORLANDO – Patriots owner Robert Kraft isn't surprised that the sale of the Carolina Panthers is expected to command top dollar. He and his fellow owners, in his estimation, have outgoing owner/founder Jerry Richardson and the Panthers' passionate fan base to thank in part for that.
Kraft, speaking to a horde of media at the NFL Annual Meeting, declined to talk specifics about the pending sale but said it's his understanding based on a presentation at the meetings that the goal is to have a finalist the owners can vote on in late May.
"The health of the league is great, really because of the great fan support we have. I don't think we can ever forget that, that without the fans we have nothing," Kraft said. "What's happened in Carolina since the expansion team came there and the way the community has supported the team has been terrific.
"I don't like to comment on financial things until I see something transact, so I'm just going to leave it at that."
Kraft also was asked about the legacy of Richardson, who headed a successful effort to bring the NFL to the Carolinas, securing an expansion franchise in 1993. In 23 seasons under the leadership of Richardson, who is selling the team amidst an NFL investigation into workplace misconduct, the Panthers have twice reached the Super Bowl. Their first trip, following the 2003 regular season, resulted in a narrow loss to Kraft and the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"I can just speak for myself that he did very good things in the NFL," Kraft said, "and all the contact I've had with him has been very positive.''