Joe Ellis and John Elway

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, left, stands with Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis before a Jan. 1, 2017, game against the Oakland Raiders in Denver.  (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File) 

The Broncos’ byzantine process to transfer ownership and shift power could begin in exactly one month.

Including the recent interest shown by a Colorado entity, the franchise should have a minimum of seven bidders/buyers, according to reliable sources associated with the NFL, others closely aligned to the Broncos, another who has spoken privately with the late Pat Bowlen’s family and two representing potential purchasers.

The price tag will be the highest in American professional sports history, immensely surpassing the $2.275 billion paid by hedge fund billionaire David Tepper for the Carolina Panthers in 2018.

The procedure won’t be quick or simple, but Joe Ellis, Broncos’ chief executive officer and president, and current designated controlling owner as a member of the three-person Pat Bowlen Trust board, has promised a new owner in 2022.

It is uncertain if the current regime of Ellis, president of football operations John Elway and general manager George Paton will make important decisions involving coaches, players, free-agent signings and draft choices before the most significant takeover since Pat Bowlen bestowed the stewardship to Ellis and Elway in July 2014.

The last sale of the Broncos occurred on March 21, 1984, when Bowlen and his two brothers (John and Bill) and sister (Marybeth) bought a majority ownership of the Broncos from Canadian Edger Kaiser, who held 60.1%. Bowlen soon paid Steamboat Springs minority partners John Adams $20 million for their 39.2% share (which had been a $10 million loan to Kaiser). The gross total was $78 mil.

The Broncos’ 2021 Forbes evaluation of $3.75 billion ranks 10th in the league.

At a training camp media luncheon Ellis said the trustees’ forthcoming objective would be “a timely, responsible and orderly determination of ownership . . . Our goal is to be able to lay out, when the season is over’’ – Ellis optimistically or facetiously inserted that coach Vic Fangio guaranteed a season’s end would be in February (assuming the Broncos play in the Super Bowl) – “a timeline to a transition of ownership that will take place next year prior to the start of the season.’’

The season could be finished Jan. 9 in a home game against the Chiefs. A Denver district judge will issue her decision before Dec. 31 on the lawsuit filed by the Bowlen Trust vs. the Kaiser estate.

Ellis hasn’t provided an ownership deadline, but “it must be resolved.’’ Two fundamental choices exist. “Well, the sale of the team is always possible. That’s one. If (the franchise) is going to stay in the family, Brittany (Bowlen) is really the other option.’’

Brittany, the middle of five children (two older brothers and two younger sisters) Pat had with second wife Annabel. Two oldest daughters from a first marriage, Amie Bowlen Klemmer and Beth Bowlen Wallace, backed by Pat Bowlen’s siblings, sued the trustees before finally suspending their case in the summer.

Named senior VP of strategy, Brittany is being mentored by Ellis and executives in the organization, and the trustees certainly would prefer her as Pat’s legacy successor. But Pat’s will and trust requires the seven children must unanimously agree. Three others (Pat Jr., “Little Bell’’ Annabel and Christiana) definitely support Brittany. Three are opposed or uncertain. Johnny Bowlen wrote me in an email recently he is surfing, running, playing golf and enjoying life, but didn’t address the Broncos’ future ownership.

A controlling owner, under NFL rules, would have to own at least 30% – an investment of more than a billion dollars. John Bowlen owns 22%, but he struggles with serious health problems. Each child owns 11.1%.

In another conversation, Ellis said ownership “bidding’’ could begin early in 2022.

Elway and Peyton Manning, who still have their primary homes in Cherry Hills, have been mentioned prominently and often as possible allies in the same or opposing groups. Neither is a billionaire. Manning has earned $248 million from his football career and tens of millions more from commercial endorsements, broadcasting and business ventures. Peyton recently joked he couldn’t find a billion dollars. Elway has made $50 million as a player and another $40 million-plus as a football executive, but the majority of his income is from a vast automobile business he sold and dealerships he owns and other business relationships. Elway remained quiet about an ownership, but he twice had opportunities to buy into the Broncos as a minority shareholder.

Proposed partners would seek to incorporate one or both in ownership deals and perhaps executive roles.

The NFL maintains a list of those actively seeking to buy NFL franchises or eventual expansion teams. At least five individuals, business associates and consulting and law firms have reached out to the league in regard to the Broncos. A sixth with close Colorado connections has emerged recently.

Brittany Bowlen is the leader in the locker room. But she is not a sure thing. Brittany lacks experience in the football operation, hasn’t settled the family feud and will confront difficulties financially without the entire family and deep-pocketed investors who would accept non-voting percentages. Most of the rumored well-known billionaire candidates actually are not attracted to buying the Broncos, but a half dozen or more keeping their profiles low and their names secret are quietly investigating the approaching auction. They are as unknown now as Pat Bowlen once was.

The Broncos’ labyrinth of complications will continue on and off the field, but the new year will bring the new owner(s) and the new hope.

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