Column

NFL probably will focus on an L.A. stadium site rather than teams

Focusing on a stadium site will allow the NFL to maintain momentum in working toward an L.A. solution

The San Diego Chargers announced this week that they will not be terminating their stadium lease in 2015, meaning for now they will not be packing the moving vans for Los Angeles.

The St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders probably will make similar announcements in the coming weeks, or they might just quietly make commitments to stay in their current cities for the 2015 season. Those teams aren't moving in 2015, either. The Times reported Wednesday that the Chargers would not have committed to stay in San Diego if owner Dean Spanos were not entirely confident the L.A. market would remain vacant next season.

All three clubs are on year-to-year leases, and now have the annual decision whether to stay.

So what will the NFL do about its longest-running soap opera, with the league entering its 20th season without a franchise in the nation's second-largest market?

Here's what you can expect: At some point soon, perhaps in the next 30 to 60 days, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce that the league is going to focus in 2015 on identifying a stadium site in the Los Angeles area and moving forward without a specific team in mind. Rams owner Stan Kroenke owns 60 acres in Inglewood, but it's at least a year away from being entitled for a stadium. The Farmers Field project downtown is entitled, but neither a team nor the league has done a deal with AEG's Phil Anschutz. There are three potential sites in Carson, two of which were part of old municipal landfills. And Ed Roski, whose Industry proposal has been ready to go for half a decade, hasn't had stadium discussions with the league in more than a year.

Focusing entirely on a stadium site will be a somewhat new approach for the league, and will allow it to maintain some momentum in working toward an L.A. solution. The kiss of death in this process, and we've seen it over and over during the last two decades, is when a given project stalls and people — its backers, politicians, teams, and certainly the jaded public — lose interest.

Were the league to select a site, it wouldn't necessarily be binding or mean much of anything. It's a way to keep politicians engaged, however, after another year has gone by without any significant progress on the L.A. front. It's also a way for the NFL to keep the pressure on AEG to make a deal.

As it is, the six-month extension Mayor Eric Garcetti gave AEG on Farmers Field — along with Garcetti's announcement in October that an NFL return in 2015 was "highly likely" — are moot. For anyone who has followed this over the years, it's simply Groundhog Day.

If a team intends to move, it must submit a relocation application to the league between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15 of that year. The NFL has talked about compressing that to Feb. 1-15 but has yet to formally do so. That window is in place so the team can avoid being a lame duck in its current city and have ample time to sell tickets in its new city.

But if the league were to zero in on an L.A. site, maybe beginning the entitlement process itself, there is no such window. It could start at any time, with the intention of picking out the team or teams later. As for who would finance the stadium, whether it be a team or teams, or the league — the NFL would keep all options on the table. The only certainty, and the NFL has long since accepted this, is there is no appetite in L.A. for committing public money to a stadium.

The league consistently has said that L.A. is a two-team market, and there are currently three teams in this game of musical chairs. That might be good for creating the best deal, but it's ultimately bad for the NFL, which doesn't want a "loser" in this process — a team that has to skulk back to its market, tail between its legs, after announcing it was leaving. So you can bet the league is going to increase the pressure on the Rams, Raiders and Chargers to turn over every stone for a stadium solution in their current cities.

For the NFL, concentrating on a stadium as opposed to an individual team — when none of those relocation-minded teams has the pieces in place to immediately commit to a move — is a way of stoking the embers of a fire that forever has been more smoke than flame.

Great outdoors

For the last two decades, the Detroit Lions have been as hardy as house pets when it comes to playing in cold weather.

According to STATS, the Lions have lost 13 consecutive games when the temperature dips to 35 degrees or colder, a streak that began with a playoff loss at Green Bay in 1994.

The 10-4 Lions, jockeying with 10-4 Green Bay down the stretch for the NFC North title, play at Chicago on Sunday before what figures to be a winner-take-all finale against the Packers at Lambeau Field. To prepare his players for the cold they'll be facing in their final games, Detroit Coach Jim Caldwell had them practice outside this week (as opposed to cooling their indoor facility, as they did earlier this season.)

"You always have to deal with wind conditions. Indoors we don't have the wind," Caldwell explained. "You see from previously, when we've had to play in a cold weather, we usually open the doors and try to get the temperature the same. But, obviously in this particular case, we're going to go outside."

The big test for the Lions comes in Week 17. They haven't won in Green Bay since 1991.

Now that's a deep freeze.

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