LOS ANGELES (AP) — The NFL's owners could take a significant step toward the league's return to Los Angeles this week.
Or they could decide to take another big step back.
Nobody seems certain of the next move in this exhausting dance when the full ownership convenes Wednesday for its annual meetings at a luxury resort outside Dallas.
While nothing is expected to be resolved this week, the NFL might set a date for that resolution by scheduling a relocation vote for early next year. On the other hand, the league also might emerge with a consensus to delay this entire debate for yet another year.
The owners' gathering, which begins with committee meetings Tuesday, will be dominated by discussion of the empty Los Angeles market and the three teams vying to occupy it: the St. Louis Rams, the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders.
Although the clubs aren't scheduled to make presentations, their competing stadium proposals for Inglewood and Carson are likely to be analyzed at length. The Rams' historic ties to L.A., the Chargers' exhaustive failures to get a San Diego stadium and the Raiders' combination of both factors will be examined and debated.
Behind the meeting's closed doors, league executives are expected to continue their attempts to broker a deal on L.A. without forcing the owners into a potentially messy public vote.
If they're successful, the league could even set a date for that vote, providing an endpoint to this multiyear, multibillion-dollar negotiation that has dominated football talk in four cities.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he would prefer to decide in a special meeting in January or right after the Super Bowl in February. That timetable would allow the three franchises to sell tickets effectively for whatever market in which they end up.
Other owners have publicly suggested a vote would be feasible in March, even if it fuels the possibility that a decision on L.A.'s fate will be postponed for yet another year.
Although more delays could further erode all three current fan bases, shifting any moves to the 2017 season also could allow the NFL to make sure it has exhausted every option in a spurned city.
St. Louis would have a chance to fine-tune its public funding deal for a new arena, and San Diego could make progress on its perpetually stalled attempts. A delay also might boost the teams' relocation efforts by giving more time to vocal opponents of the stadium plans — and there are many in each city.
Los Angeles has been without an NFL team for almost 21 years. A entire generation of Angelenos has grown up without a team, while the NFL has been deprived of the bountiful revenue opportunities amid the five-county area's 18 million people.
With three eager contestants and no clear direction, the owners' meeting is a chance for the prominent backers of each relocation movement to exchange ideas in person.
Carolina's Jerry Richardson has been among the most active advocates of the Chargers' right to move after years of failed stadium negotiations with San Diego, while Dallas' Jerry Jones backs Rams owner Stan Kroenke's plans to build a landmark multipurpose stadium complex that would provide a West Coast hub for the entire NFL operation.
The Raiders, who have large and passionate fan bases in every corner of California, have agreed to team up with the Chargers on the Carson project, but they could end up as a partner in either stadium, depending on the results of negotiations. The NFL also could force the Rams and the Chargers to work together in Inglewood, although the Chargers' owners appear decidedly uninterested in being the junior partner in that complex.
Kroenke added more intrigue to the proceedings Monday when he met with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon at Rams Park. Kroenke hasn't spoken publicly about his relocation plans — or anything else — and he repeatedly declined to meet with St. Louis officials.
In St. Louis, the meeting between Kroenke and Nixon was seen as a possible indication that the billionaire is finally listening to his home state's local officials, who have made much more progress on public stadium financing than San Diego or Oakland.
To Los Angeles Rams supporters, the meeting could be perceived as Kroenke covering every base before he tells his fellow owners why he should be allowed to walk away from potentially hundreds of millions in public money for a stadium. The Nixon-backed efforts are meeting strong opposition in state government.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.