Though a franchise has not relocated since the Tennessee Titans departed Houston in 1997, speculation continually flourishes on potential moves for multiple NFL teams. So long as Los Angeles -- the 2nd biggest metro area in the United States -- remains without football, such chatter is likely unending. Despite losing both of its pro squads in 1995 due to aging stadiums and waning support, the league appears determined to return one or more clubs to the City of Angels.
Yet, California is not the sole target of rumors, as the effort to place teams abroad increasingly gains momentum. NFL contests already have been competed in England, Canada, and Mexico and backers in these countries would surely be receptive to housing a team on a permanent basis. The Minnesota Vikings fell off this list with the approval of a new stadium in 2012, but several vulnerable teams exist. With apologies to football in Florida, here is a look at the top candidates for relocation.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags have long been a leading contender for a move to Los Angeles. With the team recently declining the services of local hero Tim Tebow, conspiracy theorists speculate that Jacksonville might want to falter. With struggles on the field only exceeded by difficulties selling tickets, the upper deck of EverBank Field is typically only occupied by tarps. The franchise was sold by Wayne Weaver in 2011 to Shahid Khan for a shocking $760 million. It's difficult to believe that a shrewd businessman would expend such a gaudy sum for hapless franchise without a hidden motivation. Khan denies plans to move, however, the Jags just agreed to participate 4 times in the NFL's annual London game. Working against relocation is the reported difficulty in breaking the lease at their recently-renovated stadium before 2027. That said, if the franchise can prove financial losses in court, it could buy its way out of the deal. The St. Louis Rams are in a similar situation and recently raised such concerns to squirm out of their own unbreakable lease, but I envision a last minute rescue preventing the "Gateway to the West" from going west. Instead, Khan and Commissioner Roger Goodell may want a mulligan on sparsely populated Jacksonville, which surprised many when the sparse region was awarded a team in the mid 1990s. I rate this move: LIKELY WITHIN 10 YEARS.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Just a decade ago, this club served as a model NFL franchise. The Bucs triumphed in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003, enjoyed full houses at newly-constructed Raymond James Stadium, and annually assembled competitive teams. Things have certainly changed in the Tampa Bay area. Despite some of the league's most affordable prices, Tampa Bay is routinely blacked out from television and struggles to fill even half of its stadium. Not surprisingly, the team has also hit rocky times on the field, employing 3 coaches in the past 4 years, and posting a miserable 4-12 record in 2011. In response, the frugal Glazer family hired college coach Greg Schiano and authorizing substantial spending in free agency. Though expectations are tame, the Bucs hope to return to past glory and welcome back frustrated fans. Ownership additionally controls the England-based Manchester United soccer club, which has fueled speculation that this club would be a natural for London. Already competing in the London game 2 times further adds fuel to that fire. The lease at Raymond James would also be difficult to break, but only filled stands can quiet noise about relocation. As a Bucs' fan, I dread the possibility, but rate Tampa Bay's relocation as: POSSIBLE WITHIN 10 YEARS.
Oakland Raiders: The easiest way for the NFL to place a team in Los Angeles with minimal collateral damage would be to relocate one of California's 3 franchises. The San Diego Chargers are a good candidate, since they have an annual escape clause in their lease at Qualcomm Stadium and the financial penalty would only cost around $20 million. However, leaving San Diego not only would abandon America's 17th largest market, it would also give up on the team closest to Mexico that potentially enjoys a fanbase south of the border. In contrast, notwithstanding the support from the notorious "Raider Nation," the Oakland Raiders are a natural fit for relocation. Besides the inability to fill its stadium, the team has long toiled on the field. The passing in 2011 of longtime owner Al Davis now makes the club a natural to be sold in the near future. If that occurs, the buyer will surely note that the Raiders' lease at Oakland Coliseum expires after 2013. Fittingly, the Raiders previously departed Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982, only to return in 1995. With the cross-town rival San Francisco 49ers opening a new facility in 2014, the "Silver and Black" might embrace their own state-of-the-art home in downtown L.A. I rate the Raiders' departure as: LIKELY WITHIN 5 YEARS.
Yahoo! Sports, Forbes.com, Thenewstribune.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, Buccaneers.com, About.com, Latimes.com
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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