By Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno
IRVING, Texas — Surrounded by reporters and television cameras Wednesday, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay delivered a blunt message.
In his view, there is “no reason for optimism” that the San Diego Chargers or Oakland Raiders will remain in their current cities.
“There just isn’t any opportunity in Oakland or San Diego,” Irsay said during a break from the league’s one-day meeting of owners. “As owners, we’re aware of that. It’s unfortunate, you don’t like to see it, but it’s reality.”
With a month to go until the Chargers face a deadline to exercise their option to join the Rams at Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium, the NFL is ratcheting up the pressure on the San Diego market to produce a deal the franchise would embrace.
Several owners and league officials dismissed the latest plan to keep the Raiders in Oakland, an effort spearheaded by Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. Though the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a term sheet with the developers, the league sees that as a non-starter.
“We have not made great progress in Oakland and San Diego,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “There is not a stadium proposal on the table that we think addresses the long-term issues of the clubs and the communities. So we need to continue to work at it.”
Owners took two procedural steps to lay the groundwork for the Chargers should they choose to come to Los Angeles, an option that expires Jan. 15. They ratified a lease agreement in which the Chargers would pay $1 per year as a tenant to the Rams and play at the Inglewood stadium, scheduled to open in 2019.
In the interim, the Chargers would play home games at either StubHub Center in Carson or the Coliseum, the current home of the Rams.
Additionally, owners approved a debt waiver to assist the Chargers in financing the $650 million relocation fee. This would allow the franchise to borrow a portion of that fee from a bank and pay it off over a longer period — say, 30 years, as opposed to the original arrangement of $65 million annually over 10 years.
Irsay’s comments were among the strongest in the past year of the relocation saga. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Chargers acted on their option to relocate before the deadline and doesn’t see value in extending the option beyond mid-January.
“This process has been going on for a very, very long time in San Diego,” he said. “That being said, to extend it would be fruitless.”
Other owners were more measured in their assessment of the situation.
“There’s activity, (but) I can’t say that there’s anything that anybody is going to be able to hang their hat on,” said Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a member of the league’s six-owner Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities. “Whether that evolves into anything, we’ll see.”
Last month, voters in San Diego rejected a ballot initiative that would have increased hotel taxes to help fund a combined stadium and convention center downtown.
“They need to come up with a firm proposal,” Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said of San Diego officials. “The owners can’t be held in limbo.”
Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, showed a hint of optimism about the process when asked if the home markets had run out of options.
“No, I would not say that,” he said, then invoked an old commercial. “They continue to explore options. Some are real, some are Memorex, some are a mixture. You can’t always believe everything you read.”
Owners remained steadfast in their belief that Los Angeles is a two-team market.
The NFL is still studying Las Vegas, but Goodell and some owners spoke in glowing terms about the market’s potential. They also praised the efforts of city and state officials that led to the Nevada Legislature’s approving a plan to put $750 million toward a stadium.
“There are some real strengths to the Las Vegas market,” Goodell said. “It’s clear that the market has become more diversified, more broadly involved with entertainment and hosting big events. There’s a growth to the market.”
Two of the owners who attended the meeting at the Four Seasons resort in Las Colinas were conspicuously mum toward the media.
“No, but thanks,” said Raiders owner Mark Davis in response to a request to share his thoughts. His team, which at 10-3 is a strong candidate to make the playoffs, can’t apply for relocation until its season is over.
Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who already has approval to move, paused for a moment near the hotel entrance and faced a cluster of reporters in his wake.
“I’m not going to make any decision until after the first of the year,” he said. “I really don’t have anything else to say. Sorry.”
Then he walked to the parking lot, apparently in search of his ride to the airport.