NFL Nation: Ed Roski
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Little progress has been made toward securing a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, and the team's current Metrodome lease expires in 2011.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
DANA POINT, Calif. -- There is an empty hill about 50 miles from here. A real estate magnate wants to dig into the side of it and build an NFL-sized stadium for the nation's second-largest city. He's got a Web site and preliminary local approval and everything else. All he needs is a team.
Conveniently, there is a team that plays in an outdated stadium halfway across the country. Its lease there expires in two years. Only incremental progress has been made toward a new facility, and it's now clear there won't be a new stadium to move into when the lease expires in 2011.
It's only natural to connect the dots between Ed Roski's Los Angeles Stadium project and the Minnesota Vikings, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for 10 years to secure approval for a new stadium. Isn't it possible the Vikings will go the way of the old Minneapolis Lakers and move west? Or, at the very least, couldn't that possibility provide ample leverage to motivate Minnesota politicians to action?
The answer, based on the current buzz here at the NFL owners' meeting, is no. The Los Angeles option is such a low priority for the league that it's not even on the formal agenda for this annual session, despite the geographic proximity to a possible solution. The league appears skeptical of Roski's project, which would not begin until a team formally committed to moving, and this week commissioner Roger Goodell downplayed its existence while emphasizing the necessity for Minnesotans to work it out among themselves.
"We've got a number of issues we're addressing this week," Goodell said in explaining why an NFL return to Los Angeles isn't one of them. "You know the climate we're operating under here. It's clearly a challenge. And I think as it relates to L.A., and I've said it before: Until there is a solution that works for the community and works for the NFL, we're obviously not going to pursue that."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the middle of Wednesday's FavreMadness, I spent an hour or so at Minnesota's practice facility for a couple of pre-arranged group interviews. I'll get to what vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said about the scouting combine later this week. Of a bit more immediate interest is the increasing rhetoric between the Vikings and Minnesota state leaders over the team's increasingly gloomy stadium outlook.
|Judy Griesedieck/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images|
|The Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome lease expires following the 2011 season.|
To review: Last month, one of the state's top legislators said there is "no chance" the Vikings will get approval in 2009 to use public money for a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. In response, Vikings vice president of public affairs/stadium development Lester Bagley said that owner Zygi Wilf is growing frustrated with the situation and might "throw in the towel" on long-term plans to own the team.
The Vikings' Metrodome lease expires after the 2011 season. Assuming a stadium would take three years to build, construction needs to begin this summer in order to have a new facility ready for the 2012 season. If not, the Vikings could be "free agents" and available to relocate if another community is interested.
Wednesday, Bagley verbally hammered Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty for the lack of action on the issue. The Vikings are close to issuing a revised plan for a near-$1 billion project that would require some $700 million in public funds. Here is the relevant quote from Bagley:
"Some of [Pawlenty's] people, some of his key people that surround him, have been supportive and understanding what the facts are. That we've got to solve this issue if we want an NFL team. But they are still slow to the game. The governor has been, with all due respect, he's been governor for six years, and he hasn't done anything. He hasn't lifted a finger to engage in a problem-solving discussion to help us on our issue. And that's the frustration that the NFL feels, that our ownership feels and a lot of our allies, whether they be elected officials or not, there's a lot of frustration and there's been no meaningful engagement by the executive branch."
(A Pawlenty spokesman told the Star Tribune that he is working to solve the state's $5 billion budget deficit and considers it his top priority during this legislative session.)
Pawlenty has been no champion of the Vikings' efforts over the years, and so the team probably isn't concerned about offending him. This type of rhetoric doesn't mean the issue will never be solved, but it demonstrates the level to which the Vikings are digging in. For the first time under Wilf, they seem willing to play the relocation card if that's what it takes.
Bagley distributed a memo that notes the Vikings have 30 games, including the preseason, left on their Metrodome lease. He also said that representatives of Los Angeles developer Ed Roski have "periodically" checked in on the Vikings' potential interest in playing in a planned stadium in Industry, Calif. Wilf has declined to meet with Roski, but Bagley has implied that Wilf could one day sell to someone who might be more interested.
Given what will be, at best, incremental progress during the 2009 legislative session, this situation figures to get uglier before it gets better. You have to wonder if there will come a point where Wilf faces a very, very difficult decision: Keep the Vikings in the Metrodome until better economic times arrive, or putting the team up for sale.
Here's a somewhat ominous sign if you're following the Minnesota Vikings' drive for a new stadium. Voters in the tiny town of Industry, Calif., approved $150 million in infrastructure improvements Tuesday to the site where a billionaire developer wants to build an $800 million privately-financed stadium.
The next step is for city officials to certify the plan. If they do, developer Ed Roski will have what he needs to begin building if and when a team agrees to move to the Los Angeles area. (The NFL is aware of the plan but has yet to endorse it.)
The Vikings are unlikely to get approval for a new stadium in Minnesota this year, leaving them with two years remaining on their lease at the Metrodome. Owner Zygi Wilf has pledged not to move, but his stadium point man suggested last month Wilf could "throw in the towel" and sell to someone who might move if a Minnesota stadium is not approved.
The big issue has always been whether the team will have legitimate leverage if it does eventually threaten to move. Tuesday's developments put them one step closer.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Green Bay cornerback Al Harris was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday as an injury replacement for Philadelphia's Asante Samuel, notes the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It will be Harris' second consecutive Pro Bowl and means that three members of the Packers' starting secondary -- Harris, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins -- were all named to the team. Woodson pulled out earlier this month because of an injury.
- Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Gregg Williams and Jim Haslett were both offered the Packers' defensive coordinator job before Dom Capers, who eventually took the job. It is not clear if Mike Nolan, the first man interviewed, was ever made an offer.
- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said he has "coordinators in mind, but not in place" as he conducts interviews at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. John Niyo of the Detroit News caught up with Schwartz during a whirlwind week. Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Brian Schottenheimer (offense) are possibilities.
- One coach the Lions have interviewed, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times: Former Bears linebackers coach Lloyd Lee.
- Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't believe the economic recession will strap the team's efforts to add players in free agency, according to Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times.
- Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner wants to add a playmaker in the offseason, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. (Good idea!)