NEW YORK -- Coachless and reeling from a wild week, the New York Jets are on the verge of being sold, probably to Johnson & Johnson heir Robert Wood Johnson IV.
The bidding process that began last fall is over. NFL sources told The Associated Press that Johnson significantly increased his bid last week, bringing it to the level of Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan's offer of about $625 million.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said league owners prefer Johnson to Dolan, whose company owns the New York Rangers and Knicks and Madison Square Garden.
But first, Goldman Sachs, the investment firm handling the sale for the estate of the late Leon Hess, must choose a bidder. Until Johnson increased his offer by some $40 million, it looked as if Dolan would get the team. Now, it appears Johnson, a stockholder in the health care products company, is closing in on getting the Jets.
Calls to Goldman Sachs on Monday were not immediately returned.
The NFL Finance Committee meets Tuesday and could be presented with a recommendation for the sale at that time.
Meanwhile, the team is without a coach. Bill Parcells resigned last Monday, only to have his handpicked successor, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, quit the next day.
The coaching turmoil -- Parcells remains chief of football operations -- has had no effect on the bidding. But Parcells wants to meet with the new owner as soon as possible to clear up the coaching mess and get on with the business of free agency and salary cap dealings.
Of course, it is unlikely the sale would be voted on by NFL owners for at least another week and possibly not until Super Bowl week. Twenty-four of the 31 owners must approve the sale.
Al Lerner, who beat out Dolan to buy the expansion Cleveland Browns two years ago, reportedly led a move to block Dolan from acquiring the Jets. Lerner lobbied with several owners, seeking their support for Johnson's bid.
On Monday, well before a midnight deadline, the Jets responded to a grievance filed by Belichick with the league about his contract. A league spokesman said the Jets' reply was sent to commissioner Paul Tagliabue, but would not elaborate.
Belichick contends the contract blocked him from pursuing other offers -- notably the New England coaching position from which Pete Carroll was fired a week ago. The contract called for Belichick to be elevated to Jets head coach once Parcells resigned.
The Patriots sought permission to speak with Belichick during the last week of the regular season. Parcells abruptly quit, automatically promoting Belichick and making him unavailable to other teams because he was now the Jets' head coach.
Should the Jets allow Belichick to take a job with another team, they would seek compensation -- almost certainly draft picks. That could prove contentious, particularly with the Patriots.
New York surrendered four high draft choices to free Parcells from his New England contract in 1997, allowing him to immediately coach the Jets. But Parcells had only one year left on that deal; Belichick has three.
NFL TO HOLD HEARING:The NFL will hold a hearing Thursday to determined the status of Bill Belichick, who quit last week as coach of the New York Jets.
Bill Parcells resigned on Jan. 3, the day after the season, and Belichick was appointed his successor.
Belichick, who had been Parcells' defensive coordinator, quit the following day, citing the uncertain status of the team, which is being sold by the estate of Leon Hess.
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