CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the cities bidding to host Super Bowls at the end of the decade, the Tuesday meeting of NFL owners has nerve-rattling import.
For everyone else, though, this Spring League Meeting should be long on interesting hallway chatter -- about Las Vegas' potential as an NFL city, among other things -- and short on dramatic developments.
With the next two Super Bowls already slated for Houston and Minneapolis, owners will award the three games after that, numbers LIII, LIV and LV, to be played in 2019, 2020 and 2021. There are, though, considerable favorites for all three, according to various sources and general chatter around the league.
Atlanta, with a new stadium already under construction and scheduled to open in 2017, is favored to host LIII, following a pattern of the NFL rewarding cities and teams that build new stadiums. And the new Rams stadium in Los Angeles, to be completed in 2019, is considered a virtual lock to receive one of the other two games available. The only real question about Los Angeles is one of timing. Super Bowl LIV would come at the end of the first year that the Rams' stadium is scheduled to be open. While the NFL's Super Bowl Advisory Committee recently departed from its long-standing restriction that a stadium must be open for at least two full seasons to be eligible to host the game -- and the NFL badly wants to finally return the Super Bowl to a region that has hosted 10 of them -- it remains to be seen if owners will want to give Los Angeles at least one season to work out the kinks at the Inglewood stadium before having it host.
South Florida, another traditional Super Bowl host which last had the game in 2010, is the favorite to get either LIV or LV, whichever Los Angeles does not receive. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has poured $450 million into renovations and upgrades to the stadium -- which had been deemed below Super Bowl standards -- including the installation of a massive canopy over the seating areas to shield fans from the sun and weather.
If those three cities get the games, it would leave New Orleans, which is bidding only on LIII, and Tampa, which is bidding for all three, on the outside looking in.
By the time those Super Bowls are played, rules for the use of replay could be substantially different. But at this meeting, only a minor tweak is expected to be considered. Last week, the Baltimore Ravens withdrew their proposal, which had been tabled from the March league meeting. The proposed overhaul would have amounted to a sweeping change in replay, allowing, among other things, reviews of hits on defenseless players. The measure was unlikely to pass, one person privy to owners' thinking said Thursday. But the Competition Committee is expected to put forward a much less ambitious proposal that would allow replay review -- and discussion with, among others, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino in New York -- for matters such as penalty enforcement, establishing the correct down and other administrative matters. Last season, during the playoffs, officials were allowed to confer with the New York office during games, in the hopes of cutting down on in-game errors, and the new proposal would seem likely to enjoy support.
The most fascinating topics covered, though, are likely to be non-official ones. On Monday, as owners began to filter in to the meeting hotel, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady filed an appeal for a re-hearing of the controversial underinflated footballs case that led to his four-game suspension. The case strained relations between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has stood firmly behind Brady. Earlier this year, the NFL won its appeal of a lower court's decision that vacated the suspension.
Re-hearings are rarely granted by the appeals court, and there is no timeline for when the court will decide whether to rehear Brady's case. But Brady's legal team has so far indicated that he is likely to exhaust all of his legal options in an attempt to remain on the field.
But the conversations at this meeting that ultimately could alter the league most dramatically in years to come will center on Las Vegas and its viability as a home for an NFL team. Las Vegas has become a source of fascination ever since Raiders owner Mark Davis visited with local officials as he pursues relocation options. If the Chargers, who are hoping to get their own new stadium built in San Diego, pass on the chance to be the second team in the Rams' Inglewood stadium, the Raiders would have the opportunity to move in with the Rams. Davis would prefer to remain in Oakland, but it seems unlikely that a new stadium deal could be completed there, sending Davis on the road to explore possible new homes and perhaps to increase his leverage. In April, Davis pledged $500 million toward construction of a stadium that is part of a proposal backed by, among others, the Las Vegas Sands/Majestic Realty group. Most of the rest of the money would have to come from public sources, with backers proposing the possibility of asking for some room-tax funds to be used.
For years, the NFL flatly refused to even contemplate putting a team in Las Vegas because of fears about the influence of gambling. But it is clear that the NFL has softened its hard-line church-state separation with gambling. Teams are allowed to wear state lottery patches on training-camp jerseys, some teams have sponsor deals with casinos and, perhaps most critically, Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones are investors in DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports business.
One owner, who did not want his name used, said last week he has the sense that the possibility of a team in Las Vegas is real -- and said that if the Raiders, the city and state put forth a good deal, it could very well get the support of the 24 owners required to approve a relocation.
That follows comments by Jones, who was instrumental in getting the Rams' relocation approved, indicating he would not be opposed to a team in Las Vegas, although he was not specific about which team. And Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank suggested he was more concerned about whether the population of Las Vegas is large enough to support a team than he is about the NFL's ability to manage the threat of gambling interests.