The cities have changed, the relocation game has not.
NFL owners will gather at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix this week for their annual meetings, the first in 22 years in which — thanks to the Rams and Chargers — there are no team vacancies in Los Angeles. The spotlight now swings to Las Vegas, where the Oakland Raiders hope to build a state-of-the-art stadium.
The potential relocation of the Raiders is the biggest issue on the table at these meetings, which run Sunday through Wednesday, and there's a reasonable likelihood owners will vote on whether to OK a move. The Raiders need at least 24 of 32 votes to win approval.
In February, the Raiders appeared to suffer a devastating setback when both casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, who originally were heavily involved with the financing of the project, backed away from the plan. But earlier this month, the Raiders revealed that Bank of America had stepped in and was ready to bankroll the stadium. That was a significant comeback for the Raiders and the NFL, considering Nevada's Legislature had green-lighted $750 million last fall for the project by way of an increased hotel tax.
Oakland is not giving up on keeping the Raiders. On Friday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf shared, in a letter to the league, detailed renderings of a $1.3-billion football stadium on the current Coliseum site. The plan would involve a $600-million contribution by Fortress Management Group, a New York hedge fund. The NFL is reviewing the proposal but to this point has not been bullish on the idea of a third-party developer — and not a team — promoting a stadium plan, a model that repeatedly failed in Los Angeles.
Said Schaaf: "We're not giving up in the fourth quarter."
At the annual meetings, owners typically discuss and vote on issues both big and small. There are also various rules tweaks and proposals in play.
One changed proposed by the Philadelphia Eagles is a ban on defensive players leaping over the offensive line to block an extra point or field goal. The New England Patriots have done that successfully in the past two seasons.
"We've seen several examples where the players have been flipped over, land on their head, their neck, and a potential for a serious injury is certainly increased when you have a player in a vulnerable position, who's now going to be knocked off balance and really can't control the way they land," said Dean Blandino, the NFL's head of officiating. "So I think that's probably the biggest thing and we have seen that on tape as to why the proposal will be voted on."
The Eagles have also proposed a rule that would permit teams to have an alternate helmet design to match their third uniform. The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, want teams to have the right to opt out of the Color Rush uniforms worn in Thursday night games.
In one of the more gimmicky proposals, the Redskins are suggesting that kickers be rewarded if they can put kickoffs through the uprights. On those, a touchback would give the opponent the ball on the 20-yard line instead of the 25.
The Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks have put forth a proposal that would make every penalty subject to a coach's challenge. It's unlikely to pass but will probably fuel much debate.