As NFL owners assess the gain of L.A., what they might leave behind weighs heavily

NEW YORK – At the very least, the two decades the National Football League has gone without Los Angeles has taught the league a thing or two about the process of getting back.

No matter what, Los Angeles will always be there. And after 20 years without it, what’s the harm in waiting another couple of months to decide how to get back?

Especially when making the absolute right decision on which team to send to Los Angeles, what stadium site they’ll call home and exhausting all options in the market or markets they’ll ultimately abandon is of such importance.

With those three objectives hanging ominously over their heads, NFL owners are treading carefully toward decision day as they try to sort out the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams competing quests to relocate to Los Angeles.

At least that seemed to be the prevailing sentiment after two days of Los Angeles owners committee meetings in New York City in which everything about the march back to Los Angeles was looked at, analyzed, argued about and dissected.

And while the talk was spirited and frank and engaging, according to sources, the process concluded with some owners leaving the NFL’s Park Avenue offices waving the caution flag.

The NFL returning to Los Angeles will happen very soon, is everyone’s belief. But the objective is to get it right. And that has as much to do with the markets they might lose as the one they will gain.

If delaying it by a month or even a year becomes necessary, well, so be it.

“There’s a lot of momentum. And I do think, at a point here in the near future,the NFL will be back in Los Angeles,” said Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt. “And whether a decision’s made in January or later I don’t think it will impact that.”

It was the second day in a row an owner talked about the possibility of pushing back a decision, following the concession by New York Jets owner Woody Johnson that such a complicated situation might warrant more consideration.
Even Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who announced his support for Carson on Wednesday, emerged Thursday much more subdued.

It all represents a noticeable shift.

For months now, the NFL has targeted January to assemble its 32 owners to decide whether entry back into L.A. will come in the form of the Chargers and Raiders joint Carson project or Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium.
Or perhaps some kind of combination of two of the three teams at one or the other site.

The key being, the decision would arrive in time for the 2016 season.

But more and more, you’re hearing January isn’t as hard a drop-dead date as we thought. In fact, there might actually be some wiggle room to push a vote back.

All in the spirit of getting right in Los Angeles.

And all with the intention of allowing as much time as allowed for St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland to deliver stadium plans to keep their teams.

“It certainly can be in January but it doesn’t have to be in January,” Hunt said.

What changed?

Everything and nothing, to be honest.

The Raiders and Chargers made quite the splash this week announcing Disney CEO Bob Iger as the head of their Carson project, and it struck the appropriate nerve and created the necessary headlines. Iger injects an incredible amount of entertainment, development and stadium vision to their effort and creates confidence the Raiders and Chargers can successfully tap into all the various revenue streams Los Angeles has to offer.

But for the most part, the Carson and Inglewood projects sit exactly where they’ve been for months. Entitled, financially backed, politically approved and ready to begin the process of construction as soon as the NFL gives the green light.

As for the home markets, there is hope but concern in all three cities.

The St. Louis’ stadium proposal might not pack the necessary punch the NFL hoped, at least to not to some, and the target date for approval keeps getting pushed back.

The Rams aren’t interested, regardless.

San Diego is unable to guarantee the votes needed to approve the required public financing, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer hasn’t yet moved forward on certifying the Environmental Impact Report.

The Chargers, wary of all the risk, are full steam ahead to Carson.

In Oakland, there is no present offer on the table to help build the Raiders a stadium. Like the Chargers, it’s onward to Carson for the Silver and Black.

In other words, nothing discernible has changed in any of the home markets and the Raiders, Rams and Chargers remain steadfast in their quests to relocate to L.A.

What did change were the actual faces and voices attached to each cities fight to keep their teams, as Faulconer, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon all stood in front a group of owners this week and delivered heartfelt pleas to keep the Chargers, Raiders and Rams in their current markets.

For some owners, it was the first time hearing directly from the mayors and governors and local leaders fighting for their teams. And it seemed to have an affect, if not on the ultimate decision at least in terms of applying some breaks to the runaway train headed straight for Los Angeles.

It’s a hell of a thing, picking up beloved sports teams and moving them. And with decision day looming and the pressure mounting, the inevitable is likely happening. Owners are thinking long and hard about what they truly want to accomplish in L.A. and what they’re willing to walk away from to make it happen.

That doesn’t mean owners are bailing on L.A. or that they won’t still decide at the beginning of the New Year. But while there is much to gain, it will come at the expense of serious loss. Because of that, the NFL will tread carefully.