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The NFL thinks it's probably too late for San Diego to keep the Chargers

NFL owners laid out the last phase of the Los Angeles relocation timeline this week. They're expected to decide in January, and it looks like the Chargers and probably another team are head to Hollywood.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The next chapter of professional football in Los Angeles will officially begin next month. NFL owners decided Wednesday to meet again on Jan. 12-13, 2016, in Houston to finally decide which teams will be allowed to relocate to Los Angeles for the 2016 season.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told a group of reporters at the conclusion of the league's December owners meeting in Irving, Texas, that they planned to vote at their January meeting. But there's no guarantee that will happen.

The Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams are all seeking the NFL's permission to move. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is building a stadium and entertainment complex in Inglewood. The Chargers and Raiders are pushing for a joint stadium in Carson. However, Irsay told Ian Rapoport that neither one of the competing proposals has the votes to be approved as is, which means owners will be looking for a compromise solution in the weeks ahead.

Two-team solution

There's a growing sentiment that two teams will get the green light to move to Los Angeles in 2016, sharing a stadium. On the surface, that looks like a positive sign for the Carson proposal, but remember, that plan isn't believed to have the support of 24 owners it would need for approval.

Kroenke's palace in Inglewood doesn't have the votes as-is either, but the Rams owner played a card this week that could change the race. Kroenke made an offer to the league to bring in a second team, either the Chargers or Raiders, as a partner in his Inglewood stadium, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. It's probably not what the final deal would look like, but it is a starting point that the league could further negotiate as its ultimate answer for Los Angeles.

There seemed to be less enthusiasm for being Stan Kroenke's tenant from his potential tenants. Raiders owner Mark Davis was adamant to Rapoport about his partner, Chargers owner Dean Spanos. Jim Trotter of ESPN put the chances of a Spanos-Kroenke partnership at zero.

Other NFL owners and Goodell viewed Kroenke's proposal differently. The commissioner said in his press conference that Kroenke's two-team plan "was received well by the membership," and "that's something they will certainly consider."

Home markets

The league set another deadline on Wednesday, giving the stadium efforts in Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis until Dec. 28 to present their final offers to the NFL.

Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged in his press conference after the Wednesday meeting that it's unlikely San Diego will be able to finalize a plan by that deadline. Stadium efforts in Oakland are even further behind that.

Only the St. Louis stadium plan has a chance of having its plan nailed down by that date, but even that's a stretch. Stadium backers are seeking more than $400 million in taxpayer contributions for the stadium in St. Louis. Financial details are still being worked out. City Aldermen in St. Louis have yet to get a financing plan through a committee vote, and if it doesn't get a vote within the next week, when Alderman take a holiday break, they won't be able to vote on it until January. There's political opposition to public funding for the St. Louis plan at both the state and local levels.

Goodell said that plans from each city must be present to the NFL with "certainty," i.e. deals that are "fully approved" and not requiring additional votes required in those markets. Even that might not be enough, as Goodell made clear after the meetings ended.

In short: it doesn't look like anything's going on change as far as the efforts in those three cities to keep their teams by Dec. 28. However, once the NFL has finalized its Los Angeles plan, that could open new solutions for whichever team(s) gets left behind.

What's going to happen?

There's still the possibility that nothing happens, at least not in time for 2016. The NFL has the option to push the decision back if it can't reach a compromise. That would probably be good for the home markets scrambling to get a stadium plan in place, but it would be bad for the league, creating even more ill will with fans in those three cities and wide shots of empty seats at home games there in 2016.

A few owners held out the possibility of pushing the vote back to February or even later in the spring. That's problematic for scheduling and logistical reasons. Remember, construction on the Inglewood stadium can begin just as soon as the NFL decides.

Infighting over the dueling Los Angeles plans has created acrimony among owners, pitting factions and individuals against each other and testing the limits of Goodell's ability to build and maintain a consensus. Delaying would only exacerbate that.

Through the weeks ahead, the league's Los Angeles committee and executive VP Eric Grubman, the point man on this, will be working to get some kind of grand bargain in place. The three teams will officially file their intention to relocate, and the committee will eventually take the compromise plan to the rest of the owners for a vote at the mid-January meetings in Houston.