Join the club.
That was my first impression after reading ESPN’s scintillating recent report about the division that is growing within the ranks of the NFL cartel, thanks to Team STL’s impressive forward progress on the front lines of the relocation lawsuit.
Long is the list of former friends and business partners who have been scorned by Rams owner Stan Kroenke, and if his fellow NFL owners let their hubris convince them they would not wind up on that side of Kroenke eventually, then they violated common sense along with Missouri law when they decided to run roughshod over the league’s relocation guidelines by approving the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles.
The NFL assumed it would all work out despite the lies and the law breaking. They figured any opposition would fade away. They were wrong. About the plan. And about the warped man in the center of it.
Thanks to the impressive reporting of ESPN's Seth Wickersham, we now know just how tight Team STL — the lawyers representing the city, the county and the dome authority — are turning the screws into the NFL and its decision makers. If you haven’t read Wickersham's story from Wednesday, here it is. Pop some popcorn and enjoy the read.
The colorful recap of this week’s NFL in-person owners’ meetings reads like Wickersham was gifted an audio recording of the dysfunction. He paints the picture of a league that is growing increasingly concerned about a lawsuit that is set to reach trial in January, right about the time the league will host its Super Bowl in Kroenke’s SoFi Stadium. Kroenke and his billionaire buddies are not just sweating as their highly-paid lawyers keep losing rounds to Team STL. They are showing signs of starting to cannibalize one another.
NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, according to ESPN, stunned NFL owners when he told them Kroenke is challenging the terms of the indemnification agreement he signed when the Rams relocated.
Wickersham reports the rising costs of the lawsuit, the actions from some owners that could have hurt Kroenke's chance of winning it, and the greater benefit of the Rams' relocation to the league has Kroenke wanting to revisit if he is and should really be on the hook for what is becoming quite the financial tab, even before the trial.
Let’s pause here to properly enjoy the irony. Those surprised owners just joined another club, the one reserved for business associates back-stabbed and trap-doored by Kroenke.
"I'm going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis," Kroenke said in 2010.
If one of America's biggest landowners had to hand out an acre to every person he has betrayed in the name of business, he might find himself homeless.
Some other thoughts on the ESPN report . . .
• How about Giants owner John Mara reportedly saying the league never would have approved the Rams’ move to Los Angeles if Kroenke did not sign a full indemnification agreement? Kind of makes it seem like owners knew the move could come back to bite someone, doesn't it?
• A full understanding of the staggering amount of information compiled by Team STL during its discovery process – phone records, tax documents and depositions galore – makes it funny to learn so much of the NFL’s concern seems to stem from one email and one deposition.
The email is one reportedly sent to St. Louis officials by a person who was involved in a competing relocation effort to put the Chargers in Carson, Calif. It outlined ways the Rams were violating the league’s relocation guidelines in their push for Inglewood. Good stuff, indeed. Damning, perhaps. But it’s just one of the smoking guns in a mountain of them.
The same goes for the deposition the league is reportedly sweating. The owner who gave that deposition is unnamed in the report. Perhaps its former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who has said some things that are going to be hard for NFL lawyers to counter. Richardson has admitted the NFL was a “mess” because it did not “follow NFL bylaws and rules.” He wrote the league was “mesmerized” by Kroenke and that the Rams owner and his supporters were, “driven to get every dime” even if it meant, “trying to minimize/ignore the NFL bylaws and policies.”
Yowza. But don't overlook other key gems.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a key leader in the strong-arming effort that got Kroenke’s relocation plan approved, is on the record stating that he never read the relocation guidelines and never really thought they mattered.
Mara testified that he supported an alternative plan for relocation because he believed the St. Louis task force presented a plan for a riverfront stadium that could support the Rams.
Rams COO Kevin Demoff told lie after lie during the relocation saga that can be presented in timeline fashion, comparing what he said to what the Rams and the league were actually doing at the exact same time.
The NFL has more to worry about than one email and one deposition.
• It was quite amusing to read about Jones’ attempted defense of Kroenke to other owners during the meeting. Remember, Jones benefited more than anyone from the Rams’ relocation, and it’s why he helped force it through despite the Los Angeles committee’s initial recommendation of the Chargers’ plans to move to Carson. On top of Jones benefiting from the relocation fee and the league’s shared boost in value, his Legends company received a massive contract for services at Kroenke's SoFi Stadium. The other owners know this, of course.
• NFL general counsel Jeff Pash reportedly told owners that Kroenke has attempted to settle the lawsuit, but the amount offered is not mentioned and Wickersham cites conflicting sources when it comes to whether the amount was more or less than $1 billion. Team STL declined to comment Wednesday when I asked if a settlement offer has been made. Interpret that as you like. I interpret it as if there was an offer, it was deemed to be too low. If a settlement is going to derail this case, it’s going to have to be big. Team STL is prepared for trial. Looking forward to it, it seems. An expansion team, to my knowledge, is not on the table or desired at this time.
• The infighting between Kroenke and the other owners has been fueled by Team STL’s wins in the courtroom. Team STL acquired through discovery everything from owners’ cell-phone records dating back years, to detailed tax documents from members of the Los Angeles committee. Two of the owners reportedly most critical of Kroenke at Tuesday's meeting — Giants owner Mara and Patriots owner Robert Kraft — were members of the Los Angeles committee and now squarely under the thumb of Team STL because they did not adequately provide the proper financial information required by the court in order for Team STL to start building its case for potential punitive damages. Both must soon sit for another round of depositions with Team STL to better determine their wealth. Team STL has successfully turned owners against one another. It was a strategy from the start, and it's working.