The folks in St. Louis have a tiger by the tail. And they are pulling, hard.
The end result could be a new NFL team in St. Louis, eventually.
As the powers-that-be come to grips with the power they don’t have in a Missouri court that will conduct a trial of the litigation challenging the move of the Rams to L.A., the possibility of an expansion team as part of a potential settlement of the case has been floated in league circle with the stature and influence to float such concepts.
Although Rams owner Stan Kroenke has agreed to indemnify the rest of the league for whatever the verdict may be — and although the lawyers have told the other owners that the indemnity commitment is ironclad — there’s a concern that the eventual judgment in the case could be big enough to get Kroenke to try not to honor it. Thus, if and when other owners are looking at the possibility of paying for all or part of the compensatory damages (and possibly punitive damages) awarded to the St. Louis plaintiffs, a new team for St. Louis could be dangled as a way to wrap up the case.
That doesn’t mean it will be, but there’s an acknowledgment in league circles of the possibility that giving St. Louis a new team could help resolve the case.
The reality, as some in league circles now concede, is that the case should have been settled months if not years ago. Once the NFL exhausted all avenues for forcing the fight to arbitration, the lawyers representing the league should have alerted the league to the very real possibility for home cooking in Missouri state court by a judge who has shown no hesitation to speak truth to power.
The league at large woke up to the current predicament when the trial judge ruled in July that financial information from multiple owners must be disclosed in anticipation of a potential award of punitive damages. And there’s definitely some frustration regarding the failure of the lawyers who have been handling the case to not press the panic button sooner.
That’s one of the most important responsibilities of the outside lawyers from large firms who charge over $1,000 per hour and who relish the opportunity to represent what they call “cost-insensitive clients.” They need to be willing and able to realize when the case is going off the rails, and they need to say something sooner than later.
Currently, it’s too late to avoid a trial. It could soon be too late to avoid a massive verdict. And while the league seems to be content to willing to take its luck at the appellate level, that process only kicks in after a Seinfeld finale-style trial featuring multiple owners being placed under oath and asked aggressive questions that may potentially twist them in knots and expose them to widespread scrutiny, criticism, and embarrassment.
If the NFL would promise a new team within, for example, five or 10 or 15 years, the league would likely find another place to park a new team, bumping the league from 32 to 34 franchises. That would disrupt the simplicity and symmetry of the current configuration of teams, but the league lacked those things for decades before 2002.
The spread of gambling will create an urgency to increase inventory, and one way to do that is to increase the number of teams. If it helps the tiger keep its tail from being amputated, there’s all the more reason to consider it.