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Panthers coach Ron Rivera

Panthers coach Ron Rivera

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he was surprised and disappointed to learn on Sunday that owner Jerry Richardson, amid allegations of workplace misconduct, planned to put the team up for sale after the 2017 season.

But Rivera made it clear that the Panthers, 10-4 and tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South, will continue to “go forward” with their playoff push and let the investigation by the NFL into Richardson’s conduct play out.

Sports Illustrated published an article on Sunday that said the organization settled financially with a least four employees regarding Richardson’s improper behavior in the workplace.

The allegations ranged from sexual harassment to Richardson using a racial slur with a former team scout.

“They’re all very serious,” Rivera said Monday of the allegations. “I do have a lot of concern about it. To be honest with you, I have not read them. I’m not dismissing them, because I’m going to wait until the investigation is done before I draw any conclusions. I think that’s the only fair thing to do. I don’t want to have anything altering my thought process.

“The investigation will take a life of its own. I believe it will be a thorough one. And remember, Mr. Richardson was the one that pushed for this to begin with.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday that “the league is moving forward with the investigation.”

Rivera’s focus will be on preparing for Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay. The Panthers can clinch a playoff spot with a victory.

Rivera spoke on Monday to his players about Richardson’s decision to sell since the news broke after they departed Bank of America Stadium following Sunday’s 31-24 victory over Green Bay. He reminded them that their focus should be on football just as it has when the team has faced other off-the-field distractions in the past.

“I don’t know how much different it is from some of the things we’ve dealt with,” he said. “The thing that again we all have to understand is the serious nature of these allegations and who they affect.

“For the most part, these people need to be heard, respect what they have to say and again let the process take its course.”

Rivera said he spoke with Richardson on Sunday night just before the owner announced his decision to sell in a letter posted on the team website.

“He was terrific in terms of our conversation,” Rivera said, declining to elaborate on specifics of the conversation.

Rivera said he hoped new ownership keeps the team in Charlotte. Richardson in 2013 made a deal when the city agreed to pay for upgrades to the stadium that the team would be tethered to Charlotte through the 2018 season.

“This organization has had a tremendous impact on the Carolinas,” Rivera said. “It has helped the growth of this city and this community. It’s been a source of pride and goodwill. I’d like to see it continue.

“This is a great community, a very supportive fan base that’s been out there for us. I hope that somehow it’s able to stay here.”

As for the allegations, Rivera said he wouldn’t make a judgment until the investigation is over.

“Not to discount the serious nature of these allegations, for us, for what we do, we’re here to play football,” he said. “It’s important that we remember that. These allegations don’t change what we do. So we’ve got to go out and focus on getting ready for Tampa Bay.”

Panthers tight end Ed Dickson didn’t want to go into details about the allegations against Richardson.

“Personally, it’s sad to me, the whole thing,” he said. “We work to be better people, better individuals, better whatever you want to call it and to see that happen, it just saddened me as an individual. I got a lot of respect for our owner. He gave me an opportunity to come here and further my career and do the things I need to do as a football player, and I can only touch basis on a personal level from my standpoint of view.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who grew up in Charlotte, also hopes the team doesn’t move elsewhere.

One of the top African-American head-coaching candidates in the NFL, Wilks said he had never heard Richardson use a racial slur.

“In my six years around here I never encountered anything around here of that sorts,” he said. “Never have I heard of that. I’m just going to wait and see exactly what comes through the investigation.”

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Tom Coughlin

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Eli Manning is a lot like Blake Bortles in one critical area: They’re both turnover machines.

Both average 1.3 per game. From 2004 to ’16, Manning averaged 16.5 interceptions per season. Bortles averaged 17 per season in his first three seasons. Manning led the NFL in interceptions three times — including throwing 27 in 2013 — and Bortles led the league with 18 in 2015. The turnovers drove Tom Coughlin nuts when he was with the New York Giants, and they’re driving him crazy this year, too.

That was Coughlin’s No. 1 priority with Bortles this season: Cut down on the turnovers. He has, slightly. He has 11 in 11 games and is on pace for a career-low 16. Manning, by the way, also has 11 in 11 games.

Does that mean that the Jaguars shouldn’t take a serious look at making Manning their starting quarterback in 2018? Absolutely not. His experience, ability to carry a team for several weeks and clutch performances in the playoffs (remember the two game-winning drives in the Super Bowl) should make Coughlin, GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone look long and hard at Manning.

That, of course, depends on the team making the decision to move on from Bortles. That’s certainly not as easy a decision as many outside the organization believe. Caldwell is a staunch Bortles supporter and Coughlin and Marrone believe that they can win with Bortles, provided he’s given a good supporting cast, which injuries have robbed him of this season. It’s not out of the question that Bortles is the starter in 2018.

But if he isn’t, the Jaguars will have multiple options. Kirk Cousins, provided Washington doesn’t franchise tag him again, is the top quarterback available. It doesn’t appear that Jimmy Garoppolo will be available (San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday that it was likely the 49ers would use the franchise tag on him). Alex Smith could be if Kansas City decides to go with Patrick Mahomes after Smith’s dip in play over the past month.

A veteran quarterback makes more sense for the Jaguars right now. The defense is Super Bowl caliber, but there’s a small window to keep that defense together considering the age and contract situations of some of the key players. Drew Brees, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater also are scheduled to be free agents.

Manning, provided he has been released or is willing to accept a trade, should be considered. Even at 37 years old his upside outweighs his turnover concerns and would give the Jaguars a chance at a deep playoff run.