I said it early last week on the BFTB podcast, but it bears repeating: the Chargers may never play another game in San Diego. In my mind, they are the likeliest candidate to move up the 5 to Los Angeles to become one of the league's premier franchises.
I'll be around in the comments to answer any and all questions about why I think this is going to happen, but I'll lay out some of the basics below so you can see where I'm coming from.
What Has Changed?
Two things, one more pressing than the other.
First, the NFL is transitioning to Los Angeles. The league's headquarters remain in New York City, where they have always been, but NFL Network and NFL.com are located in Los Angeles. In addition, more and more essential league personnel are moving their main offices to the NFL's offices in Culver City. There are numerous reasons for this transition (with "softer media" being a big one), but that's not nearly as important as realizing that the league doesn't really want it's HQ to be in a major city that doesn't have an NFL franchise.
Second, the college stadiums have opened their doors for the first time in a long time. The Rose Bowl (UCLA) and the Coliseum (USC) have, at least for the last decade or so, have been adamant in their refusal to host NFL games. Now, as they're trying to stay relevant in the uber-competitive game of "most impressive college football stadium", both stadiums have said that they would welcome a temporary NFL team (and the money that comes with that).
The NFL is at least a little concerned that this will be a short window. Either stadium could decide to rescind that offer or they could simply deteriorate while the league waits around trying to figure out how to get a team to L.A. The time to move is now.
The NFL and AEG
While it may be violating an antitrust law or two, the NFL has reportedly approached AEG (who are championing the downtown Farmers Field proposal) about putting together a proposal or two for them to look at to help facilitate a move.
Previously, AEG and the San Diego Chargers nearly came to an agreement on a deal that would move the team to Los Angeles and provide them with a state of the art stadium in exchange for a chunk of the team ownership. The Spanos family balked at the reported 35% ownership stake AEG demanded, and negotiations died quickly. Tim Leiweke, who was the AEG employee in charge of making this deal happened, quickly left the company and took a job as President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors).
So, how would AEG factor into the plans now? What is different? Well, working with the NFL instead of a team, AEG would remain owners of the stadium and would lease it to whichever team(s) used it. They would be free to sell it to anyone, at any point, for any price. However, there would supposedly be an agreement that the NFL would be able to use the stadium for events such as the Pro Bowl, Super Bowl, NFL Drafts, etc.
While it may not be the same offer/situation they were looking for previously, with them owning part of an NFL franchise, this deal would still be plenty profitable for AEG. Not only would they eventually make back their money and then some on rent (especially if there is more than one tenant), but the proposed Farmers Field proposal also included a bit about AEG destroying/rebuilding the Los Angeles Convention Center and selling it to the city for dollars on the penny (they would make billions). It's better than nothing.
The big question is, which team would move to L.A. and become the team that represents the league in the city the team inhabits? There are three options.
Plan A: The Los Angeles Raiders (and Rams)
The league wants the Los Angeles Raiders to happen, but not the way that it did. There's no doubt that the Raiders have the largest fan base, and probably the best history in L.A., of any of these three options.
However, the NFL needs things to go according to plan. That means they need an owner that will work with them, instead of against them. They also need a team that can be at least mildly successful over the next few years. Worst-case scenario here is an NFL stadium in L.A. that doesn't see a home playoff game for the first decade or more.
The NFL has looked at the Raiders' lack of success in the last decade and, like everyone else, decided that the issues trickle down from the top. Mark Davis, the son of Al Davis, wants to move his team to L.A. The NFL wants his team in L.A., but they don't want Mark Davis.
The league is kind of, sort of trying to push Davis out of the league while they can. They know Oakland won't build him a new stadium, and they know that San Antonio probably isn't a realistic landing spot for the Raiders. They won't allow him to move the Raiders to L.A., but they will allow a new owner to move the team to L.A.
In a perfect world, Davis would sell the team to an owner of the NFL's choosing and they would work with him to bring the Raiders to Los Angeles to play in the Rose Bowl in 2015 and eventually inhabit AEG's Farmers Field along with the Los Angeles Rams (more on them below).
Plan B: The Los Angeles Chargers (and Rams)
After I laid it out in the podcast, Kevin Acee basically laid out the same idea in a column for the UT-San Diego (he didn't steal the idea from me, it's just an obvious thing to see). Simply put, the Chargers can no longer wait for San Diego.
The city won't even put a measure on the ballot for a new Chargers stadium in San Diego (which isn't likely to pass anyway) until November 2016. By then, two NFL teams will likely be playing in Los Angeles (in the Rose Bowl and Coliseum) and preparing for the opening of Farmers Field in August 2017.
If the team waits for that ballot measure, and it doesn't pass, they are screwed. They can't move anywhere, they can't force San Diego to build them a new stadium (they'd be without leverage), and they will have lost roughly one-third of their income to the new franchises in Los Angeles. They'd be stuck, broke, and without any options. The only way that scenario ends is with the Spanos family reluctantly selling the team to an owner that moves them to London. That's not what anybody wants, and not a chance the team can afford to take.
The Chargers were close to inking a deal with AEG for a free stadium in the past, with the only thing standing in their way being a chunk of ownership. Now, the offer will be almost the same, except instead of giving up ownership they'll be paying rent. That's a fair deal, and a good one for the Spanos family, considering moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles will at least double the overall value of the franchise.
This isn't an ideal situation for the NFL, but it's not a bad one. They get a competitive franchise with a young GM/head coach and some star players. The Chargers are run significantly better than the Raiders are, and the Spanos family will be willing to scratch the league's back to ensure that their pockets get lined appropriately. The league gets its premier franchise and the stadium they want, and they can move the Rams in to provide more income for them and AEG.
Plan C: The Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were the likeliest team to move to Los Angeles up until a few weeks ago. Technically, they still might be. This stems from the fact that their owner, Stan Kroenke, owns enough land in Los Angeles (over by LAX and the Forum) to build a football stadium and he wants to move his team out of St. Louis. He doesn't need as much assistance as the Raiders and Chargers would need to move to L.A., but that's a big reason why the NFL doesn't want the Rams there.
The NFL wants control. They want two teams in L.A., and they want to own the stadium those teams play in. They want to host their major league events at Farmers Field. They want their premier franchise to be somewhat beholden to them, and willing to work with them.
Kroenke isn't quite Al Davis, but he doesn't want to work to help the league either. He wants to build his own stadium, he doesn't want to share his stadium with another team, and he doesn't want to let the league use his stadium for other events without charging them several arms and legs. His plan to move the Rams to L.A. doesn't do much to benefit the league or AEG. In fact, it only benefits the Rams, and it puts the stadium farther away from the rapidly-growing "L.A. Live" area that the NFL wants to be a part of.
If the league can get either the Raiders or Chargers in Los Angeles first, and the Farmers Field project underway, they have plenty of reason to block Kroenke from building his own stadium out by the airport. They would like to have the Rams as the second tenants in the downtown stadium, but they do not want to be stuck in a situation where they are battling with the only NFL owner in L.A. because they want to add a second team and he does not.
As I said earlier, there is a lot to this situation. I've learned a lot from reading reports, hearing rumors, and connecting dots. What I wrote above isn't fact, it's just the situation as I understand it. The above also isn't all of the information about the NFL trying to get a team in L.A., because I tried to keep this relatively short.
If you have any follow-up questions, throw them in the comments below and I'll answer them as best I can.