On the brink of a vote that could return the NFL to Los Angeles, a consensus is building within the league for the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers to share a stadium in Inglewood.
Multiple league officials and owners not involved with the Inglewood project, or the competing proposal in Carson, say there is momentum to pair the two franchises in what one owner describes as a "transformational" project backed by the Rams.
The Chargers and Oakland Raiders want to build a stadium in Carson, and to this point, Chargers owner Dean Spanos has stood by his partnership with Raiders owner Mark Davis.
The league officials and owners, who spoke on the condition they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, say Spanos doesn't want to be seen as turning his back on a partner. This makes the path to what is emerging as the preferred pairing more difficult. However, the matter is expected to be resolved during the special meeting that starts Tuesday in Houston, where owners hope to find an answer to the two-decade L.A. vacancy.
One influential owner whose preference has not been apparent in public or private touted Inglewood over Carson, saying that "the deals aren't even close."
In the past week, there has been a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity among owners and NFL staff in an attempt to clear the way for a decision to be made here.
It is extremely rare for the NFL to devote a full day to a single topic, much less two days in the middle of the playoffs. It underscores how determined the NFL owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell are to reach an accord that would bring professional football back to the country's second-largest market.
It is widely thought that the L.A decision will help define the legacy of Goodell and shape the financial future for a league that generates $10 billion in annual revenue.
All three teams want to relocate to L.A. for the 2016 season, meaning time is of the essence to move their franchises and begin selling tickets.
There's a sense that most owners know the point where they want to get — the Chargers and Rams in Inglewood — but aren't sure of the best way to get there. The idea of the Raiders' returning to L.A. is not popular among many owners.
One owner said the NFL has to realize that "we just can't solve all three stadium problems in one fell swoop."
It would mean striking a bargain that keeps the Raiders out of L.A. but doesn't leave them empty-handed. Such a maneuver could mean that the Raiders return to Oakland in the short term, but can explore relocating to other cities, among them San Diego, St. Louis or joining the San Francisco 49ers in their new stadium in Santa Clara.
There is some sentiment among owners that the L.A. matter should be determined by secret ballot to avoid the awkwardness of league partners' voting against partners. A secret vote — now used only for the selection of a commissioner or awarding a Super Bowl to a city — would need the approval of 17 of the league's 32 owners, a simple majority.
A possibility exists that owners will vote on the Chargers and Rams at Inglewood, a concept floated for months and formally proposed last week by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in a one-page letter to Goodell.
There's a belief among some that Spanos would be willing to make a deal with Rams owner Stan Kroenke to share Inglewood if it were a 50-50 partnership that wouldn't put the Chargers at an economic disadvantage.
When news of Jones' letter became public late Saturday, Mark Fabiani, the Chargers' point man on stadium issues, reached out to The Times and asked that a December letter Spanos sent the L.A. committee be referenced. The two-paragraph letter rejected Kroenke's offer to partner with a second team in his planned Inglewood stadium.
"Nothing in Stan's letter gives me any reason to reconsider my partnership with Mark Davis and our chosen stadium site," Spanos wrote.
The one thing everyone can agree upon is that this is a very fluid process and plans can shift very quickly.
Three-quarters of owners must approve any franchise relocation. It's believed both projects have the nine votes to block the other, although that could be shifting in favor of the Rams after last week's meetings of the finance, stadium and L.A. committees at league headquarters in New York.
It's unclear if the six-owner L.A. committee will recommend a stadium plan or whether such an endorsement would be unanimous. Two members of that committee, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, have made it clear in public that they favor the Carson plan.
Though the cost of the Inglewood stadium proposed by Kroenke has been publicly estimated at $1.86 billion, the officials and owners who sought not to be named say the cost likely would significantly exceed $2 billion. That would make it the most expensive venue in U.S. sports history. At 3 million square feet — including identical locker rooms, office space and owner's suites for two teams — it would also be the NFL's largest stadium.
The project would be the centerpiece of a 298-acre entertainment, retail and housing development, something one owner called an "NFL Disney World."
According to the relocation application the Rams submitted to the league last week, the stadium would be ready for the 2019 season.
Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger, who would oversee the Carson proposal if it is approved and have the opportunity for a minority ownership stake in the Chargers or Raiders, is expected to make a presentation to owners in Houston.
On Saturday, Goodell sent a 48-page report to all franchises saying that the three home markets — Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis — failed to produce viable stadium plans.
In the report, which did not make any recommendations, Goodell said market research supports the conclusion that L.A. is capable of being a two-team market.
Though the Coliseum has expressed a willingness to temporarily host one NFL team starting next season, it's unclear where a second team would play. USC's lease to operate the Coliseum would need to be amended to allow a second NFL team.
Last summer, the Rose Bowl Operating Co. declined to respond to the NFL's request for a proposal to temporarily host a team.
League officials, who have also looked at Angel Stadium, Dodger Stadium and the 27,000-seat StubHub Center, say they aren't concerned about finding temporary homes for two L.A. teams.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. reiterated his city's support for the privately financed stadium Monday.
"As we have believed all along, the Inglewood project is the best option for the NFL, from an economic and geographic perspective," Butts wrote in an email. "The companion development will make the stadium viable for year-round uses. The HKS-designed project will be the largest, most beautiful stadium in the world. We are hopeful that the NFL owners will agree."
Carson Mayor Albert Robles didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.