DENVER – With $10 million in NFL finances earmarked for reviewing stadium plans, business development and community tie-ins, the race for Los Angeles appears to be down to two.
Unfortunately for the city officials pitching sites in central Los Angeles and Anaheim, it is one more site than they had hoped.
As expected, the NFL didn't come out of the spring meetings with a definitive location for a Los Angeles-area franchise. Instead, the league continued its routine of baby steps, focusing the list of potential sites to a possible renovation of the L.A. Coliseum or a new stadium in Anaheim's "platinum triangle" business district. The league's financial arm also authorized commissioner Paul Tagliabue to spend up to $5 million per site to review each plan – including stadium design and a total cost analysis. It was a commitment Tagliabue called "far and away the most significant progress we've made" in an attempt to return to L.A.
"The authorization to go forward and spend up to $5 million for further, serious, engineering cost work and environmental work – if it's necessary – is a very significant thing," Tagliabue said. "We would not be spending $10 million if there wasn't a real prospect here that these projects, one of them, could become a reality."
Interestingly, Tagliabue mentioned the NFL could look at the stadium site as one which would host two teams – like the shared stadium between the New York Giants and New York Jets. That would allow two teams to split some of the costs incurred in the plans, which range from $650 to $800 million. But considering the issues the Los Angeles fan base had supporting two teams in the past, putting two franchises there seems to be an unlikely avenue.
In whatever manner the plan takes shape, Tagliabue was clearly optimistic about the progress with the two sites. This despite a gradual advancement which seems to be slightly out of line with past projections, some of which targeted this week's meetings as a date for owners to finally hold a definitive vote on an L.A.-area stadium.
That will now occur no earlier than July when the league holds its next round of meetings. The next step in the process will take place in June, when owners will tour the potential sites and correspond with city planners and business leaders who are backing the dueling stadium proposals.
But even with the process at a crawl, some of the cautious viewpoints – like that of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – seem to be relatively positive about where the site selection is heading.
"We want to be out there," said Jones, who is one of 11 owners on the Los Angeles Working Group – the league's designated committee that has been hashing out the details of the return. "That's why we're really pushing and getting a little bit ahead at times. There really ought to be, for all practical purposes, an owner on the ground. There ought to be a team on the ground. So we've got to kind of be the surrogate as a league so that happens. That's not happening today, so every time I talk about it, I'm tempered by the fact that we don't have an owner on the ground. We don't have a team on the ground.
"We need to recognize the reality that this is a tough thing to make work. It's going to be tough. It's going to take a lot of persistence. It's going to have to take a lot of faith that at the end of the day this thing will work."
Jones also came out squarely against putting an expansion team in the Southern California market, though he wouldn't dismiss it as a possibility. The league isn't expected to entertain the mechanism to get a team to L.A. – through relocation or expansion – anytime soon.
"Expansion does not make sense for the NFL at this juncture," Jones said. "It just doesn't. We don't improve anything by expanding. We water it down."
OTHER MEETINGS NEWS
In the other two anticlimactic developments at the meetings, there was no progress on identifying a successor to Tagliabue, and the competition committee never got close to proposing a possible rules change that would have allowed running backs and wide receivers to choose their numbers from a pool between 1 and 49.
Though owners reiterated their hopes to find a replacement for Tagliabue by Labor Day, they spent this week defining the search process, which will be handled in conjunction with an independent firm hired by the league. The ideal scenario would be a search committee settling on five candidates in the next two months, then whittling that group down to three for the interview process before finally settling on a new commissioner by the Sept. 4 deadline. However, it still seems a safer bet that this will drag into next season.
As for the rules change with jersey numbers, it never got off the ground. There never appeared to be any support, and committee co-chair Rich McKay was pessimistic about an amendment ever being made.
"One [reason] is fan identification, so fans know when they see numbers, who players are and what position they play," McKay said. "Secondly, we've got eligibility issues. The eligibility issues really come into play in special teams. When you start letting various players wear various numbers, they create real problems for officials with respect to special teams.
"Nobody is comfortable with there being an exception made to the policy. Exceptions just create a problem for every team. No. 2, we're not comfortable recommending any change at this time because if it were adopted at this meeting, you would have a difference between the way rookies could be treated and veterans could be treated, because there is so much in the pipeline with respect to jersey numbers.
"There's no way a veteran would be in the position to immediately change their jersey number. Lastly, there's no real sentiment on the committee that there will ever be a change of the system, or that there is any need to change."
Per a league source, here is preliminary list of players expected to be put on the trade block or released in the coming days: Washington Redskins wideout David Patten, Cleveland Browns running back Lee Suggs, Arizona Cardinals running back Marcel Shipp, Oakland Raiders defensive end Bobby Hamilton, Green Bay Packers safety Mark Roman, New Orleans linebacker Courtney Watson and Miami linebacker Eddie Moore.
Among other veteran news, the New York Giants are expected to work out quarterback Jay Fiedler this week, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are considering making a one-year contract offer to David Boston. The New England Patriots are also believed to be interested in Fiedler.
The Kansas City Chiefs' proposal to expand the number of playoff teams to 14 was tabled. It's believed the Chiefs are far short of the 24 votes needed to get the proposal passed.