When it comes to exciting new markets, the NFL has become too predictable. Periodically, owners talk about one or more teams landing there, but nothing happens.
Most recently, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has said the NFL “certainly” will return to Los Angeles within five years. Likewise, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said that one or two teams may be headquartered in London — and that the NFL also will go back to L.A.
That’s fine, but where will the three or four teams come from? Expansion surely can’t happen, not with a shortage of competent quarterbacks to complete 32 depth charts. That means current teams will have to move.
So who’s moving? Let’s consider the fairly small universe of candidates.
The burgeoning list of buyers includes groups that would move the team. However, the lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium provides only two future opportunities to exit — in 2020 and after the lease expires following the 2022 season. More importantly, the other owners may not want to abandon Western New York, especially if that would cause the politicians to launch an assault on the league’s broadcast antitrust exemption.
If a team will move to London, the Jaguars become an obvious candidate, since they’re playing there once per year through 2016. But relocation would go against the clear commitment owner Shad Khan has shown to Jacksonville, and there’s no reason to think he’s being anything other than honest about his desire to keep the team there over the long haul. Also, the lease at Everbank Field wouldn’t be easy to break.
Owner Mark Davis is running out of options to stay in Oakland. But the NFL may not want the Raiders to move as long as Davis controls the team. Still, the Raiders can leave as soon as after the coming season, thanks to a one-year lease at the Coliseum.
Despite a clear intention to remain in San Diego, the Chargers would be foolish to stay put in a subpar stadium if/when another team moves to a brand new venue in L.A. At that point, it could make sense for the Chargers to slide up the coast and share the new building with another tenant. Their lease has a buyout that shrinks each year.
Currently on a year-to-year lease after the powers-that-be in St. Louis opted not to make the upgrades necessary to put the Edward Jones Dome in the top 25 percent of all NFL stadium, the Rams can leave after any year and every year.
When it comes to teams that could move, that’s the extent of the options. Which means that, if one or two move to L.A. and one or two move to London, up to four of those teams could eventually have new homes.
If not sooner.