HOUSTON -- It has been 21 years since the NFL has had a team based in Los Angeles. By Wednesday night, the league could have two.
The problem: After a year of proposals and arm-twisting, nobody knows which teams it will be, setting up a tense, high-stakes meeting at which owners will be lobbied and cajoled in hopes that one side will come up with the required 24 votes needed for approval. Three home-city fan bases hang in the balance, and this past week, Commissioner Roger Goodell told owners in a memo that all three of the home cities' proposals to keep their teams were not good enough, clearing another hurdle to allow relocation under the league's own rules. After a year of wrestling with Los Angeles as a front-burner issue, weariness has set in among owners.
For fans of palace intrigue, this meeting will be a fascinating window into the NFL's internal politics and power bases. For those looking for a resolution, the exhaustion of owners might be a good thing.
"I think everybody is tired of this and they want to get a vote done," said New York Giants CEO John Mara, who is a member of the league's committee overseeing relocation to Los Angeles.
Here, then, is a primer for the owners' meeting:
How did we get here?
The NFL has discussed going back to Los Angeles in fits and starts for about as long as the market has been empty. But when Rams owner Stan Kroenke bought a large plot of land at the site of the old Hollywood Park about two years ago, it jump-started the conversation and forced the Chargers and Raiders to figure out what they would do so they wouldn't be shut out.
What are the proposals?
Kroenke wants to build an NFL palace in Inglewood. (His is the flashier (and more expensive) project with more bells and whistles.) And in recent weeks, undoubtedly under pressure from the league, he has said that he would be willing to take on a second team either as a tenant or as a partner. There is also a feeling among some owners that when the NFL returns to Los Angeles, it has to bring the "wow" factor, and Kroenke's plan is regarded as having more of that.
The Chargers and Raiders have teamed up to propose a stadium in Carson, California, and in the fall, they brought on a critical figure: Disney chairman Bob Iger, who will oversee the project if it is approved. Why is that critical? Because there are real concerns among owners about the ability of the Raiders, in particular, to maximize the potential of being in Los Angeles, and owners believe there is nobody better equipped to design a spectacular fan experience than Iger.
What's the problem?
Neither of these proposals has the required 24 votes for passage. Although this week, one owner said he thought the Raiders and Chargers were probably a little closer than the Rams. That means a compromise is in order, and negotiating one -- and giving whichever team is left out a palatable way to walk away -- will be the order of business this week.
There are plenty of personal dynamics at play here. Kroenke is a relatively new owner and his grand vision has enticed owners like him -- those who have come to the NFL relatively recently and who believe he is best suited to succeed in Los Angeles. Dean Spanos, of the Chargers, has a lot of personal support because he has been a long-time owner who is viewed as loyal to the NFL and who has held down the Southern California market since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season. Mark Davis, who now owns the Raiders, does not have as much personal support as Spanos does, but there is a block of owners who view Carson as a way to solve the NFL's two most intractable stadium problems -- the Raiders and Chargers play in the league's worst stadiums -- in one fell swoop.
What potential compromises are there?
There is only one, but very significant, hang-up to that: Spanos has no interest in it.
According to people who have been in Los Angeles planning meetings, Spanos has remained adamant that he already has a partner and a stadium proposal he likes, and it is in Carson. There is also a sense among some owners that he does not have a personal relationship with Kroenke and does not want to be in business with him. And Spanos might also fear the enormous debt he would incur as he partners with Kroenke on a stadium whose cost owners believe eventually will be well over $2 billion. Is there anything the owners could promise that would sway Spanos? That will be among the discussions.
Another possible solution, although it is considered a long-shot: The owners could allow the Rams to move in 2016 and vote to allow the Chargers to move later -- contingent on the outcome of a June referendum on stadium financing in San Diego. The Chargers believe passage is unlikely, but that would give San Diego one final chance to keep the team.
* * * **
Or the owners could approve one of the proposals as is.
Whatever they do, there will be at least one team left out. One owner said last week that there is a large group of owners who do not want to see that be Spanos because they feel he has been, by far, the best partner. And owners will be charged with figuring out a way to soften the blow for the losing team(s) -- with money or a promise of future relocation, perhaps.
It is unclear what form a vote will take, although the hope all along by the NFL is that a grand bargain will be formulated during negotiations so that all the relevant questions -- who, where and what will be done for the team left out -- would be addressed in one overarching proposal that owners could approve.
That might not happen and one owner said the league could face a situation similar to the one it had when Goodell was elected commissioner.
Goodell was considered the favorite when that meeting of owners began, but on the first few ballots, his challenger, Gregg Levy, had surprisingly strong support. Eventually, though, the owners could see that Goodell had more votes and sides shifted until Goodell had the votes he needed on the fifth ballot.
If there is no grand bargain to be worked out once this meeting begins, the owners could face a similar scenario. After 21 years, the suspense for Los Angeles might not be over just yet.