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In effort to win St. Louis lawsuit, NFL disavows its relocation guidelines

Mike Florio would like to see the Bills stay put in Buffalo, but says in order to get a new stadium deal done, public officials need to take seriously the threat that the franchise would move to another city.

The NFL doesn’t like being accused of making up the rules as it goes. The NFL often makes up the rules as it goes.

When it comes to the lawsuit filed against the NFL in the aftermath of the relocation of the Rams from St. Louis, the NFL is arguing (among other things) that the relocation guidelines can be ignored whenever the owners feel like doing so.

And so the league is disavowing the relocation guidelines as to the departure of the Rams from St. Louis. Years earlier, the league adopted the relocation guidelines as a tool for preventing teams that it doesn’t want to move from moving.

So, basically, the guidelines apply when the league (i.e., the owners) wants them to. And the guidelines don’t apply when the league (i.e., the owners) wants them to not apply.

The NFL’s lawyers made that argument in court this week, via Previously, that argument was made in documents filed by the league.

Excerpts from Commissioner Roger Goodell’s deposition illustrate the cake-and-eat-it balancing act that happens when the owners vote on a potential move, given the relocation guidelines. Basically, the owners ultimately have the power to decide individually whether a move should be approved. The collective outcome of the vote will control whether the move happens. So if enough of the owners choose to follow the guidelines to keep a team from moving, so be it. If enough of the owners choose to not follow the guidelines to let a team move, so be it.

Basically, it’s whatever the owners want to do. Whenever they want to do it. However they want to do it.

In other words, they make up the rules as it goes.

The NFL also argued that the relocation guidelines, even if they are binding, don’t create contractual rights for cities that host NFL teams. While other claims have been made by St. Louis over the relocation of the Rams, the question of whether the guidelines transform places like St. Louis into what the law would regard as a “third-party beneficiary” becomes a legal question for a judge, not a factual question for a jury.

As reported by, a lawyer who is representing Oakland in its lawsuit against the league over the latest relocation of the Raiders had this message for the next city that could find itself on the wrong end of the league’s relocation rules: “Watch out Buffalo.”

And Jacksonville. And Charlotte. And any other city whose lease with an NFL team is expiring. If the league wants the team to move, it will move. If the league doesn’t want the team to move, it won’t move.

Everything else is just words and details aimed at justifying whatever decision the owners make.