It feels like a near certainty that an NFL team—or teams—will be moving to Los Angeles for the 2016 season.
But for now we still have to be careful with the language used while discussing an L.A. migration. My choice of words here is the closest we can get to tip-toeing past a line. The more conservative, or perhaps optimistic, words in regular use to describe a move are "possible" and "potential."
We're talking about the mega business of sports, after all, and the dollar-driving mothership of the NFL. Nothing is ever finalized until the votes are counted and a rubber stamp has done its job.
And that process is about to begin Tuesday when owners meet in Houston, where a move to Los Angeles by up to two teams from a group of three—the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers—will be voted on.
Bleacher Report's Jason Cole outlined the final hurdles to be cleared. He spoke with Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II, who said the overwhelming desire from league owners is to have a concrete direction soon:
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Any move requires approval from at least three-quarters (24) of the league's owners. Which teams move, how many are involved and exactly where they'll play are all details to be mapped out. But it's highly likely (note the wording again) the nation's second-largest market will see the NFL's return in some capacity after a 21-year absence.
Business realities and the allure of Los Angeles' shining lights have made a move feel inevitable. But when we go beyond the dollars, there are fans who are set to potentially lose their team and players whose place of employment is in limbo.
The latter group can have an almost robotic existence, at least during the season. Players practice, play and then practice before playing again. The comfort of their weekly routine can act as a barrier for any distractions.
But players for all three teams that are possibly set to move have been on the sidelines for a few weeks now, with their seasons over. How are they feeling while waiting for a decision? Are they excited to be part of history or saddened by the thought of leaving a fanbase behind? And what about the impact on family life?
I had an opportunity to speak with Rams guard Rodger Saffold. I asked him those questions and more as we talked about his team's possible relocation. The 27-year-old shared both his personal and professional perspective.
Bleacher Report: The Rams have been in St. Louis for 20 years, and you’re a veteran who’s been around for six of those seasons. What’s your message to the fans in St. Louis who could be losing their team soon?
Rodger Saffold: I totally understand their position. I definitely get it. I don’t want them to feel like we don’t care about our fans. We definitely care about you.
But at the same time we’re still employees of the team. We’re employees of the Rams, and whatever the decision is that comes from [owner] Stan Kroenke and the organization, we just don’t have any control over it.
This is a roll-with-the-punches sort of league. So whatever happens, I just hope the fans continue to support us, because we appreciate all the support they’ve given. Especially me since I’ve been there for so long.
B/R: You’ve lived in the St. Louis area for quite some time now. Are you excited about a potential move across the country? Or is it something you’re greeting with apprehension after being settled in one place for so long?
RS: I started my NFL career in St. Louis. I had my kids in St. Louis. I bought a house in St. Louis. So of course I want to make sure I have everything set with the family, my home team.
At the same time I try not to worry about the potential move. I had the shoulder surgery, and I’m dealing with the rehab. I’m so close to getting to the end of that and being able to just do what I want while taking the entire offseason to really push to be the best lineman in the game.
So when I think about the move, all I really think about is “what can I control?" The only thing I can control right now is myself. I’ve been told it’s a possibility, and if there is a move I’ll do the proper things to get ready. If there’s no move, then I'll just continue business as usual. But really that’s all I can control right now.
B/R: What about the impact on family life? Any concern there? Often that’s something we overlook when players move around in free agency. Relocating a young family is never easy, and you surely assumed there was at least some level of stability in that respect after signing a five-year contract in 2014.
RS: I want them to be comfortable as well, no matter what happens.
We’ve already looked up schools in St. Louis for my kids. Then when all this started happening we had to start thinking like "all right, if this move happens, what do we need to do?" I have a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, so luckily they don’t really know what’s going on very well.
I think they’ll be fine no matter what because they have good parents, and this is just what we have to deal with right now. When they finally give us the word, that’s when we’ll be in full support either way.
B/R: While fans are potentially losing or gaining a team on either side of this, players can often bounce around to different cities throughout their careers as free agents, through trades or after getting released. How does a team's relocation feel different from a player's perspective? Or does it?
RS: You have mixed emotions because it’s a change, and with changes one of two things can happen: It can be a good thing or a bad thing. When you have changes, you also have challenges. Then when you have challenges you really want to go out and do a good job.
At the same time you feel like you’re betraying the fans, and you really don’t want to do that. I’ve sat down and talked to them and visited with them after games. After our last home game you saw fans who were crying in the stands. That takes a toll on everybody.
As a player you feel both sides. It’s really tough, but again, at the same time you know it’s out of your control and up to the Kroenke family, and whatever happens you’re still an employee of the Rams.
B/R: Sure, players always need to focus on their job and what they can control, whether that’s preparing for a game or rehabbing an injury during the offseason. However, you were a fan too long before becoming a player. So you know what sort of passion is there, and that must really hit you at a human level, right?
RS: Oh absolutely. I’m from Cleveland, so my grandparents and parents always talk about how we lost the Browns when they became the Ravens. That’s just par for the course. I’ve already gone through it.
B/R: What’s the general feeling around the locker room? Is there excitement? Concern? Or are your teammates simply focused on football and preparing for 2016 regardless of where they’re playing?
RS: I think they’re just anxious just to know what’s going on. We’re still left in the dark, and there’s no guarantee it’s happening.
The media have been saying everyone is moving: us, the Raiders and the Chargers. Where are we all going to go? We can’t all go to the same city, so what’s going on?
That’s basically what I’m waiting for. I’m just waiting on some information, and I can tell the rest of the guys just want to know, too.
During the season it was easy to not get distracted because you had games to play or you’re trying to get your contract together. But now we have a bunch of free agents and a possible move. There’s a lot going on, so guys just want to know what’s going to happen, and it’s going to get pretty interesting before March.
B/R: So right now anxiousness is the prevailing feeling then?
RS: Yeah, I think it really is, because what we keep hearing is “there’s a possibility...there’s a possibility...there’s a possibility.” But I have a house right now, and if we end up relocating I have to move, make sure things are set up, likely sell that house or rent it out. Then I have to make sure everything is set up on the other side.
So I’d like to know as soon as possible, so I can prepare myself. But I understand there are still some other things that have to go on, like meetings, talks with the league and talks with committees to get everything in motion.
B/R: During the season was the possibility of a move distracting at all?
RS: We practiced in California against the Cowboys during training camp. Then for the last two games of this season we practiced in Napa. So of course it was always in the back of our minds as we thought "hey, what are we doing practicing in California? What are we doing having training camp in California? What’s going on?"
Then afterward you forgot all about it, because you were so focused. So really it was a lot of give and take. But during the season we did not and could not let it be a distraction.
B/R: Lastly, if the Rams move you’ll be on the first team to bring football back to Los Angeles after a two-decade absence. Is that historical aspect something you've thought about at all?
RS: Yes, I have, just because I saw the Los Angeles Rams fans from the past, and they are just dying for us to come back over there. They still support us so strongly.
I really do appreciate those fans for a few reasons. When we’re playing in Arizona, San Francisco, San Diego or Oakland, we always have a big showing from L.A. Rams fans. So I definitely appreciate that from them.
Then there’s the other aspect of them being in the same position after losing their teams. It’s such a whirlwind of emotions for everybody. You wish you could make everybody happy, but with this thing, it’s just not going to happen.
Rodger Saffold spoke to Bleacher Report as part of Gillette's ProShield celebration of those who protect the face of their team. Along with the Redskins' Trent Williams and the Ravens' John Urschel, Saffold debuted his "Shield move" dance. Now they're all inviting everyone to get involved and showcase their own dance on Twitter by using "#ShieldMove" by Jan. 23.
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