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Dan Rooney defends the rule that bears his name, hints at expansion

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The NFL’s high-level hiring practices have come under fire in recent days, once the current cycle ended with no minority candidates hired for eight head-coaching jobs and seven G.M.-level positions.  And so it’s understandable that the man after whom the Rooney Rule is named would believe that the rule that bears his name isn’t the problem.

And, frankly, it isn’t.

“You can’t saddle these [coaches or owners] and say ‘You have to do this,’ ” Rooney tells the league in-house media company.  “We want minorities to get the job, and we’re willing to say that’s our goal.  But when it gets down to a team, you can’t say to them, ‘This is what you have to do.’  You can say to the owners that the Rooney Rule, you have to follow it.”

Still, it’s up to the league at large to set the terms of the Rooney Rule.  As currently constituted, the rule requires only that one minority candidate be interviewed for every head-coaching and G.M. job.  There’s a growing sense that the rule must expand.

While the letter of the rule routinely is followed, its spirit often is violated.  In 2003, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knew he was going to hire Bill Parcells.  But Jones had to comply with the Rooney Rule, so he interviewed Dennis Green by phone, prompting the league to tweak the Rooney Rule to require the interviews to be conducted in person.

In late 2009, the Redskins interviewed assistant coach Jerry Gray for the job held by Jim Zorn while Jim Zorn still had the job, at a time when everyone who was paying any attention knew that Mike Shanahan would be the team’s next coach.

This year, the Chiefs provided a perfunctory interview to Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong just before locking on to Andy Reid.  There has been little buzz in the league or the media that Armstrong is a viable head-coaching candidate — primarily because very few special-team coaches ever vault directly to the top job on the sidelines.

Though the NFL has yet to require that teams interview a minority candidate not currently employed by the team (which would be an easy and proper fix, given as Tony Dungy recently pointed out no African-American coach has been hired via an external search since Rooney hired Mike Tomlin in 2007), Rooney seems to be willing to expand the rule to include key assistant coaches, like offensive and defensive coordinators.

“With these eight [new] coaches, now they have to build a staff,” Rooney said. “A lot of people think it’s really difficult and things like that.  They do it quickly.  Where in times, they should look at the whole thing.  Is it necessary to do it as quickly as they’ve done?”

They do it quickly because they line up the staffs before they even get the jobs.  It’s one of the aspects of the interview — if we give you this job, who are you bringing with you?  And when it comes to hiring assistant coaches, diversity routinely takes a backseat to friendships and, frankly, nepotism.

While the guys who get the head-coaching jobs will grumble, that’s the easiest way to start filling the pipeline with diverse candidates, even though in the end the head coach will be free to hire friends and relatives (or relatives of friends) for the jobs on the coaching staff.  So there wouldn’t be, and couldn’t be, a hiring mandate, at any level of the coaching structure.

And that brings us back to the point most commonly raised by those who want to see any talk of minority coaches disappear.  As the argument goes, the teams are hoping to hire the best candidates for these jobs.  So if they believe that a white candidate is the best candidate, so be it.

That argument typically includes reference to the absence of white running backs and white cornerbacks from NFL teams.  But here’s the biggest difference.  NFL coaches and General Managers sift through hundred of players every year, looking for the best 90 to bring to training camp.  Then they carefully study those 90, looking for the best 53.  Then they constantly scrutinize those 53, ensuring that only the best 53 remain on the team and that the top 22 are at all times on the field.

Coaches and General Managers, in comparison to player acquisitions, rarely are fired and hired.  Teams don’t have a razor-sharp structure in place to find candidates and to vet candidates and to scrutinize candidates.  There are no drills or exercises that can be conducted to demonstrate tangible skills.  Even then, there’s no way to see what these candidates can do if they had the job.  Instead, a leap of faith is made based largely on conversations and communications and the “gut feeling” that arises during that process.

The Rooney Rule was promulgated because minority candidates weren’t getting sufficient chances to participate in that process, which prevented them from establishing the kind of rapport with a white owner and/or G.M. that would give the white owner and/or G.M. the “gut feeling” that this candidate is the best candidate for the job.  Since 2007, owners and General Managers ultimately have acquired the appropriate comfort level only with African-American candidates who have worked for the team in a capacity other than head coach (including interim head coach), giving the owner and other key decision-makers an extended opportunity to observe the candidate and to get to know him.

Put simply, the ridiculous views that got Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder fired by CBS are continuously undermined by a process that is put in place to find the best of the very best professional football players.  But the ridiculous views that got Al Campanis fired by the Dodgers (and I’d forgotten how great Ted Koppel was in response to Campanis) could still be lurking in the hearts and minds of some of the elderly white billionaires who own football teams, primarily because the opportunities to prove those warped attitudes incorrect are, in comparison to player turnover, few and far between.

In the end, the only solution may be the passage of time, as a new generation of men (or women) with more diverse backgrounds and experiences accumulate the wealth and the influence to purchase NFL teams.  The only way to accelerate that process could be a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit fueled not as much by a vague and convoluted sausage-making process as by the obvious output of the meat grinder.

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C.J. Spillman convicted of sexual assault

C.J. Spillman Getty Images

Former NFL cornerback C.J. Spillman was convicted of sexual assault on Thursday stemming from a 2014 incident at the Cowboys’ team hotel when Spillman played for Dallas.

According to Claire Z. Cardona of the Dallas Morning News, a jury found Spillman guilty in under two hours in a trial that began on Monday in Fort Worth, Tex.

The second degree felony sexual assault charge carries a sentence of between two and 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Friday.

Spillman was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Tex. on Sept. 20, 2014. Spillman wasn’t officially charged until June 30, 2015 and Spillman played the remainder of the 2014 season with the Cowboys while charges were pending.

Spillman admitted to having sex with the woman but claimed it was a consensual encounter. The jury disagreed.

He has not been on an NFL roster since the conclusion of the 2014 season.

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Mercilus plans to be healthy for start of camp

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 03: Whitney Mercilus #59 of the Houston Texans reacts after sacking Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second quarter on January 3, 2016 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) Getty Images

There’s still a little more than four weeks before the Texans open training camp, and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus says he’ll be ready to go when the Texans take the field.

Mercilus has been battling a hamstring injury, but he told the Houston Chronicle that with extra treatment and rehab, he plans to be on the field in late July.

I’m feeling good, starting to get healthy,” Mercilus said.

Mercilus said he plans to go to Los Angeles in early July to visit a specialist with whom he’s previously worked. The injury kept Mercilus on the sideline during the Texans’ spring on-field work.

The AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month last December, Mercilus has become a key part of what could be a very good Texans defense. He had a career-high 12 sacks last season and also recovered two fumbles.

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Maxx Williams fine waiting his turn in crowded tight end group

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 01: Maxx Williams #87 of the Baltimore Ravens runs past Vince Williams #98 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2nd quarter of the game at Heinz Field on October 1, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Both by necessity and later because the Ravens were playing for the future, tight end Maxx Williams had a busy rookie season.

Heading into 2016, though, Williams sees a crowded tight end situation. Veteran Ben Watson was signed in March, and quarterback Joe Flacco is hoping one of his favorite targets, Dennis Pitta, will be able to return from injury. If everyone is healthy, Williams could find himself fighting for snaps, but he’s saying the right things about welcoming the chance to work with Watson and Pitta.

It really helps having the veterans here; it really gives me a chance to learn from them and see what made them successful,” Williams said, per the Ravens’ official website. “It’s nice seeing those guys practice every day so you can take what they have and build off that.”

Williams said the Ravens tight ends have asked themselves, “What’s wrong with having the best tight end group in the NFL? We’re going to work to make each other better and then figure it out going into the season.”

Williams played in 14 games last season, starting seven. That’s probably more game action than the Ravens anticipated Williams, a second-round pick in 2015, getting as a rookie.

He just turned 22 in April, but he set franchise rookie records last fall with 32 receptions for 268 yards. With Watson in the fold and Pitta and Crockett Gillmore trying to get healthy, Williams knows he may have to wait his turn but said he’s comfortable with his surroundings and confident in his abilities.

“It’s nice knowing what to expect every day,” he said. “Last year, I went into every day not knowing what was going to happen. This year there’s a lot of that stress off now that I’ve been through it. Now it’s really about football and focusing on your game to get better every day.”

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Jim Kelly says he and Rex Ryan are “all good”

Jim Kelly, Kim Pegula AP

Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly said a few weeks ago that Rex Ryan has to make the playoffs or else he’ll get fired. Ryan didn’t exactly sound thrilled about that, although he wisely avoided getting into a war of words with the most popular player in franchise history.

Privately, Ryan and Kelly have communicated, and Kelly says there are no problems between the two of them.

“Yeah, we already texted,” Kelly said, via Sal Capaccio of WGR 550. “That’s all good.”

It might seem a little inelegant for a player of Kelly’s stature to talk about his former team’s coach getting fired, but Kelly was probably right: Ryan had better win this year, or else Kelly will be talking about a different Bills coach next year.

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NFL: “Credible evidence” needed for discipline, not investigation of possible PED violation

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The NFLPA sent a letter to the NFL this week demanding “sufficient credible evidence” from the league if they want to interview four players implicated as users of performance-enhancing drugs in a report by Al-Jazeera America last year.

The league responded to that letter on Thursday and they predictably took a different view of the matter. Lindsay Jones of USA Today reports that NFL senior vice president of labor affairs Adolpho Birch sent a letter to the union calling their stance regarding interviews with Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, Packers linebacker Julius Peppers and ex-Packers linebacker Mike Nealfundamentally at odds with the CBA” when it comes to the standard the league needs to meet to begin an investigation.

“While we readily agree that such evidence is required to support the imposition of discipline, nothing in the CBA or the policy imposes such a requirement before possible violations of the policy may be investigated,” Birch wrote. “Obviously, the standard that you advocate — that the league cannot undertake an investigation unless and until it has established the facts and claims to be investigated — would simply ensure that there would be no investigations at all.  For the same reason, we are under no obligation to disclose all evidence uncovered thus far as a condition to interviewing the players, which would clearly compromise the investigation.”

Birch added that active NFL players have an “obligation to cooperate with league investigations and may be disciplined for failing to do so.”

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told Jones that the NFLPA had not received the letter yet and therefore had no comment.

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Free agent tight end Cameron Clear gets suspended, too

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Cameron Clear #85 of the Texas A&M Aggies runs for a 30-yard game after a reception to set up a touchdown in the third quarter of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against the Duke Blue Devils at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. Texas A&M won the game 52-48. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

Thursday was Suspension Day around the NFL, or at the least a day of bunch of them were announced.

Free agent tight end Cameron Clear also got a four-game suspension, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported. The reason Clear was suspended is unknown.

Clear was signed to a futures contract by the Colts last winter but was released in May.

Clear went undrafted in 2015 and signed with the Steelers after the draft. He finished his college career at Texas A&M as a teammate of former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, who’s also a free agent and also got a four-game suspension from the NFL on Thursday.

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Report: Goodell made $32 million in 2015

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference prior to Super Bowl 50 at the Moscone Center West on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images) Getty Images

It hasn’t been hard to find negative opinions about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during 2015, but he’s still making out OK on the financial end of things.

Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal reports that a tax filing by the NFL shows that Goodell made $32 million in 2015. That’s a drop from $34.1 million the previous year and the fourth straight year that Goodell’s compensation has dropped, although $32 million is still a fair chunk of change to take home.

Unless the league reverses course on it’s decision to give up tax-exempt status for the league office, this will be the last year they have to disclose Goodell’s pay. They made the change last year, but Kaplan reports a “stub period between the end of the last filing and when they changed status” meant they had to make the filing one more time.

While we won’t know exactly how much Goodell will pull in for his services in 2016 and beyond, it’s a good bet that his pay will remain high as long as revenues remain high. While plenty of people have negative takes on the job Goodell’s done, bank accounts around the league remain the most significant bellwether.

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NFL upholds DeMarcus Lawrence’s four-game suspension

File-This June 18, 2014, file photo shows Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence standing on the field up during an NFL football minicamp  in Arlington, Texas.The boldest move on draft day for Dallas was moving up 13 spots to get Lawrence early in the second round. The Cowboys acknowledged they might have overpaid, and did so because they thought Lawrence was the best chance to replace Ware after dumping him in a salary cap move. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) AP

The Cowboys got a double dose of bad news on Thursday.

In addition to announcing that linebacker Rolando McClain will be suspended for the first 10 games of the season because of another violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, they also passed along word that defensive end Demarcus Lawrence’s four-game suspension under the same policy has been upheld by the league.

Defensive end Randy Gregory rounds out the trio of Cowboys defenders who will open up the season serving suspensions, which should make it difficult for the Cowboys to realize any significant immediate improvement over last year’s lackluster performance on that side of the ball. Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Ryan Russell and David Irving are among the options for the team at defensive end while Gregory and Lawrence are out of the picture.

After the Cowboys drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott in the first round, owner Jerry Jones said the team hoped his presence would lead to more possession on offense, fewer plays for the defense and, as a result, a better performance from that unit. It may have to if the Cowboys are going to improve on last year’s results.

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Rolando McClain suspended for 10 games

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 14:  Rolando McClain #55 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 14, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The list of Cowboys defensive players serving a suspension to open the season has reportedly gotten longer.

Adam Schefter and Todd Archer of ESPN reported that linebacker Rolando McClain will be suspended for the first 10 games of the season on Thursday afternoon and the Cowboys passed along the same word a short time later. It’s a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, which was also the reason why McClain was suspended for the first four games of last season.

McClain re-signed with the Cowboys this offseason after making 80 tackles and an interception in 11 starts for the team after his suspension came to an end last year. McClain missed the voluntary portion of the team’s offseason program, which owner Jerry Jones said was so he could spend time with his kids although coach Jason Garrett seemed less sanguine about his absence.

With McClain out of the picture, the Cowboys will have to shuffle the deck at linebacker. Sean Lee will start with Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber’s experience starting last year likely putting them ahead of Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson and Keith Smith for the other two spots.

Defensive ends Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence will miss the first four games of the year serving suspensions of their own, leaving the Cowboys awfully short on defense come September.

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Trevone Boykin avoids jail time with plea deal in assault case

LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 15:  Trevone Boykin #2 of the TCU Horned Frogs drops back for a pass against the Kansas Jayhawks in first quarter at Memorial Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seahawks rookie quarterback Trevone Boykin will avoid jail time after pleading down from an assault charge, and will get to satisfy his probation while in Seattle.

That’s good news for the team, as he’s pretty much their No. 2 quarterback at this point.

According to Stephen Cohen of SeattlePI.com, Boykin pleaded no contest to charges of resisting arrest from the New Year’s Eve incident. He was initially charged with a misdemeanor count of assault after getting in a bar fight in San Antonio, which cost him a chance to finish his TCU career in the Alamo Bowl.

Boykin was given a year’s probation and fined $1,500 and court costs. The Bexar County Court judge will allow him to fulfill his 80 hours of community service and anger management course while he’s in Seattle this fall.

At the moment, the undrafted rookie is the backup to Russell Wilson, as Jake Heaps is the only other quarterback on the roster. There was a possibility that they might re-acquire Tarvaris Jackson, though that seems less likely after he threatened to kill his wife last week.

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Cardinals had Ameer Abdullah on the phone when Lions picked him

New York Jets v Detroit Lions Getty Images

During the second round of the 2015 NFL draft, the Cardinals were sitting at No. 55 and knew exactly who they wanted: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah.

There was just one problem: The Lions wanted Abdullah, too. And the Lions picked 54th.

The new Amazon series All or Nothing reveals that. All or Nothing, which debuts Friday on Amazon Prime, documents the Cardinals’ 2015 season, including the draft — when the Cardinals were so close to taking Abdullah that they had him on the phone in their draft room, and coach Bruce Arians and General Manager Steve Keim were celebrating that they were about to add the player they wanted.

“We’ve been talking about this pick since the Combine,” Arians said. Keim added, “I liked him a lot.”

And then Abdullah gave the Cardinals some bad news: He had another call coming in, and it was from Detroit.

“Detroit’s calling him right now,” announced one dejected voice within the Cardinals’ draft room. “You’re kidding me!” said another.

The Lions took Abdullah with the 54th pick, so the Cardinals, no longer having the guy they wanted at 55, traded down. The Cardinals got a running back, David Johnson, in the third round.

As it turned out, Abdullah and Johnson were fairly similar players as rookies: Abdullah ran for 597 yards, added 183 receiving yards and 1,077 kickoff return yards. Johnson had 581 rushing yards, 457 receiving yards and 598 kickoff return yards. Johnson played well enough that losing out on Abdullah didn’t hurt in the long run, even if it hurt on draft day.

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Connor Shaw says farewell to Browns

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Connor Shaw #9 of the Cleveland Browns thows a pass in the third quarter of a game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) Getty Images

It appears the Browns are down to four quarterbacks.

Connor Shaw said goodbye to Cleveland in a Twitter post on Thursday that said he “learned and grew a lot” during his two years with the team. There’s been no official word from the Browns at this point, but a move was expected with the Browns also carrying Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Austin Davis and rookie Cody Kessler.

Shaw signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and spent most of the year on the practice squad before getting tabbed to start the regular season finale. He went 14-of-28 for 177 yards and an interception and spent last season on injured reserve after a preseason thumb injury.

The Browns said this offseason that every quarterback on the roster was competing to start, but the signs pointed to Griffin as their on-field work unfolded. Things will pick back up in training camp without Shaw in the mix.

UPDATE 3:14 p.m. ET: The Browns announced that Shaw has been waived.

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Manziel suspension could save Browns $2.173 million

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 27:  Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns hangs his head after an errant pass at Arrowhead Stadium during the fourth quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefson December 27, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) Getty Images

When the Browns cut quarterback Johnny Manziel after two years of his four-year contract and no team claimed the contract on waivers, the Browns landed on the hook for the remaining guaranteed money in his contract.

His salary of $1.169 million is fully guaranteed for 2016, along with $1.004 million of his 2017 salary. But the contract, as PFT previously has explained, contemplates the voiding of the guarantees for a variety of reasons.

One of the triggers is an NFL-imposed suspension. Which means that the Browns, if the report of a Manziel suspension is accurate, could avoid the $2.173 million in guaranteed money he’s still owed.

The biggest question in this regard relates to the impact of the team waiving him before he was suspended. For example, there’s no way that the Browns would be able to recover signing bonus money due to the suspension, given that he’s no longer on the team. Ultimately, lawyers could be tussling over whether a team can void guarantees due to a suspension occurring after the player’s contract was terminated.

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NFL suspends Sheldon Richardson for Week One

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 03: Sheldon Richardson #91 of the New York Jets laughs on the field before a pre-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on September 3, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson will have to sit out the team’s Week One game against the Bengals.

The NFL announced today that Richardson is suspended for one game for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Richardson will have to miss all practices during the first week of the season but is eligible for training camp and the preseason as normal.

Richardson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest in January in connection with an arrest last summer for driving 143 miles an hour while evading police with a 12-year-old in the car. He was not charged with child endangerment, nor was he charged with any drug offenses even though police said they smelled marijuana.

Last month, Richardson said he wasn’t sure if he would be suspended and was trying to move on. He’ll be able to move on, but only after missing Week One.

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What’s next for the Chargers?

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 20:  San Diego Chargers fans hold up signs supporting the team during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium on December 20, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

With the likelihood of the Chargers obtaining taxpayer funding for a new stadium in San Diego taking a major hit via a recent ruling of the California Supreme Court, the team’s geographic future has become even more uncertain.

With a 66.6 percent supermajority now needed to justify public money, a new stadium in San Diego becomes a virtual impossibility. So what are the other options?

First, the Chargers could exercise their right to join the Rams in Los Angeles. The Chargers, however, have questions about the economics of being the second team in the facility. Efforts currently are being made to determine the dollars and cents of sharing space with the Rams. The Chargers have until January 2017 to make a decision.

Second, they could stay at Qualcomm Stadium, where the lease runs through 2020. At that point, San Diego may ask the team to make needed repairs as part of a new lease, which could trigger an impasse.

Third, the Chargers could consider moving to Las Vegas, which has been linked to the Raiders. This would result in two franchises that not long ago were partners in an effort to move to L.A. becoming adversaries in a chase for Sin City.

Fourth, a move to the San Gabriel Valley isn’t out of the question, to Ed Roski’s long-forgotten-but-still-shovel-ready City of Industry site.

Fifth, San Antonio or Austin is an option, but the existing Texas teams would oppose a third team on their turf.

Sixth, the Chargers could move to London or Toronto or some other international market. However, that option is regarded as the least likely of the six.

However it plays out, the Chargers most likely won’t be playing in a new stadium in San Diego.

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