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Jerry Richardson's last stand?

7/21/2011

As owners and players appear to be closing in on a new labor agreement, I can’t help but wonder if this is the last stand for Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

He was designated by commissioner Roger Goodell a long time ago as the point man for owners in negotiations that have been tumultuous. Richardson’s been accused of trying to break the players’ union, taking a condescending tone toward players and may have been pushed aside by some more moderate owners in the late stages of the negotiations.

But, if a deal gets done, it would give Richardson a legacy. The new deal could guarantee labor peace for 10 years. You can bet that Richardson won’t be on the point the next time around.

Richardson is 75 and I’ve got a hunch that once this deal is done, the only former player who is the majority owner of a team is going to take a step back. Ever since the Panthers entered the league in 1995, Goodell and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue have leaned very heavily on Richardson.

They’ve put him in charge of the stadium committee. They used Richardson as the point man in the previous labor deal, which owners later opted out of. They’ve also put Richardson on a bunch of other committees through the years because he’s one of the most respected owners in the league.

Richardson long has believed the NFL is more important than his franchise. That’s why the league logo -- not the team logo -- takes up the prime real estate at Bank of America Stadium. But Richardson has done more than enough for the league.

I’m not saying Richardson is going to flat-out retire. I’m not sure he has it in him to ever fully walk away from the league and the Panthers. But I think you’re going to see him take a step back from league responsibilities and he’ll resist any offers to join new committees.

Richardson’s had some health issues. He had a heart transplant in 2009 and fired his sons, Mark and Jon, as team presidents soon after he returned to full duty. I think Richardson will remain active in running his own franchise, but he won’t be quite as hands-on as he once was. Richardson likely will focus on big-picture decisions, but rely on his new power structure to handle day-to-day operations.

Richardson brought in Danny Morrison as team president. His job is to handle business matters and he gradually has been taking on a bigger role. General manager Marty Hurney handles football operations.

Richardson trusts both men completely. The Panthers still are Richardson’s team, but look for him to step back a bit and let Hurney and Morrison run the franchise. Look for Richardson to let Goodell and other owners handle league matters going forward.