- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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DENVER -- The search for the replacement of commissioner Paul Tagliabue is only two months old. The wait for an NFL franchise in the Los Angeles area is in its 12th year.
NFL owners held an all-day meeting Tuesday to escalate both priorities, but no one can estimate how long each process will take. One thing is clear, though: Tagliabue has a better chance of being replaced before a decision is made on whether to settle on the Los Angeles Coliseum or Anaheim as the site for a new Southern California stadium.
The good news coming out of Tuesday's meeting is that the engines are moving to resolve both issues.
The Los Angeles situation appeared to take up more of the discussion, and rightfully so. The issue is complex because of the massive costs of building a stadium, not to mention the cost of getting a team to Los Angeles and funding it with enough money to acquire winning players.
Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt told Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and others that the Los Angeles project is the NFL's toughest challenge. From the ever-changing politics to the limited public contribution, NFL owners realize how difficult it will be to make the numbers work for a Los Angeles- or Anaheim-based owner.
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair committed $900 million of capital for his franchise once he counted the money he contributed for Reliant Stadium, the expansion franchise and working capital for the team. Whomever owns a Southern California franchise probably needs to commit between $1 billion to $1.4 billion, or figure a different way to come up those types of resources.
"The L.A. thing is hard to get your hands around," Jones said. "We don't have an owner. We don't have a team. We've got some leadership that we haven't had before. We've got a L.A. market that's better than it's been the last seven years. We got viability out there."
Owners left Denver feeling months of exhaustive work is needed on the Los Angeles area football project. An 11-member committee is working feverishly. The working committee gave Tagliabue the authority to spend up to $5 million each on studying the Los Angeles Coliseum concept and the Anaheim stadium, which is near Angel Stadium.
Eliminated from consideration at this time is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, or any California site other than the Coliseum or Anaheim.
To some degree, both Anaheim and the Los Angeles Coliseum might be disappointed that the NFL is probably months away from picking a site. Tagliabue said a couple more league meetings and lots of work by the Los Angeles Working Group -- the 11-member committee -- will be needed to study everything.
Next month, several owners and league representatives will visit Los Angeles and Anaheim to talk to business leaders and to hope to figure out how to make the numbers work. One of the reasons the league is planning on spending close to $10 million for both sides is to find a way to bring down the overall cost.
The Los Angeles Coliseum rebuild could cost as much as $800 million. The Anaheim stadium could cost in excess of $650 million, including $53 million for the land.
"We need to be a lot more reliant on something called value engineering, and to understand what are the best ways of monitoring stadium construction costs," Tagliabue said. "We've got to work really hard on the costs. There is not money to be wasted there. I think the committee and I emphasized to the membership that we have to be looking in the analysis of each of the new stadiums to be looking for two teams."
Two teams for either the Los Angeles Coliseum or Anaheim?
That's right, two. Though no one is willing to even think about finding two Los Angeles-area teams for a league that doesn't want to expand beyond 32 teams -- leaving relocation as the method for getting a team to the area -- Tagliabue and the working committee understand this project is so complex, a two-team analysis has to be done to make the numbers work. Tagliabue mentioned Giants Stadium working for both the Jets and the Giants as the example of how the cost of building in such a big market has to be considered.
"In New York, with the Jets and Giants having two teams playing the minimum of the 20 dates at the stadium with shared cost is an advantage," Tagliabue said.
Whomever buys into the Los Angeles market knows he will be battling a tight margin of financial success. The numbers will be huge and are escalating every day.
Jones and other owners understand that, which is why they are proceeding cautiously and diligently in finding a way to make it work. Jones remembers when he bought the Cowboys they were losing $1 million a month. He wasn't sure if he could make it work financially. Through hard work, he turned one of the NFL's brightest star franchises into a profit machine.
The potential new owner in Los Angeles has to enter with similar uncertainty.
"Every constituent involved has to be willing to overdo here and be willing to have an area where you don't have the answers," Jones said. "That's why I use the example of buying the Cowboys. When I bought them, I did not have all the answers. I thought I had all the answers. I thought I had a way to keep from going broke, but I wasn't sure. I don't know an owner who has come into this league knowing he's is going to come into this league thinking he's going to make money owning a football team."
The effort will be in the next few months of trying to figure out the right ways to cut down the cost of building the stadium and finding people willing to invest private capital to make it all work. It won't be easy. Problems occur daily. On Tuesday, for example, the University of Southern California Trojans expressed concern about their status in a new stadium with an NFL team, causing Los Angeles Coliseum people to scramble to put out fires. A problem surfaces in Anaheim -- a city that wants a quick decision from the NFL -- that the city might be offering the land for an NFL stadium too cheaply at $53 million.
The issue is complex, and the next few months will be adventurous in trying to reach a solution.
As for Tagliabue, he figures to be around at least until Labor Day. A survey of the 32 owners' positions on what they want as far as qualifications for a new commissioner has been completed and read to the owners. Now, the owners and the eight-member search committee have their ground rules.
Owners informed Tagliabue they plan to take the next three months to interview candidates and then try to find a voting consensus to replace him. A new commissioner needs the support of 22 owners instead of the usual 24 to pass a rule or a bylaw.
Owners will meet Aug. 18 in Detroit and may vote on a new commissioner then, but some owners think the process could last into the fall or as late as December.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who is leading the search committee, said he expects to have a list whittled down in about two months or sooner. The owners hope to meet in July in an attempt to make further progress.
"We're going to try to get things done as quickly as possible," Rooney told The Associated Press.
The leading candidates for Tagliabue's job continue to be Roger Goodell, the NFL's chief operating officer; Atlanta general manager Rich McKay and Baltimore president Dick Cass. One outside name that has cropped up recently has been Michael Powell, former chairman of the Federal Communication Commission and the son of Colin Powell, the former secretary of state.
Also on the list are league officials Jeff Pash, Eric Grubman and Joe Browne, as well as several club officials and an unknown number of potential candidates from outside the NFL.
The spring meeting allowed the NFL to spring forward on its two most important topics: Los Angeles and finding a new commissioner. By the fall, a new commissioner should be hired. As for Los Angeles, it's going to take time.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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