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NFL’s return to L.A. in 2016 has become inevitable

For 20 years, the NFL periodically flirted with a return to L.A., through multiple efforts that ultimately stalled in large part because it was a luxury not a necessity to return to the market that the Rams and Raiders vacated. With the NFL having the clout to wait for a really good deal (from business partners and/or state and local governments willing to do a really bad deal), the league never got very far down the road back to Los Angeles.

It’s now not a luxury but a necessity, with three teams having poor stadium situations and taxpayer money not as available as it used to be. And so what once was a situation in which the NFL could be aloof and patient has become a game of high-stakes musical chairs, with the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders trying to get into the two available seats the moment the NFL Films orchestra stops playing.

The owner of the only team located in California that isn’t linked to L.A. recently said that one or two teams will be (not might be, but will be) in Los Angeles in 2016.

“I think you’re going to see one -- if not two -- teams in L.A. next season,” 49ers CEO Jed York told Austin Karp of SportsBusiness Daily. “The teams will begin construction, but also play in a temporary venue, because it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, we’re moving to L.A. We’re building a new stadium. But we’re going to stay here for the next two seasons.’ That’s a very tough sell.”

For that same reason, the NFL will try to keep the specific identity of the team(s) moving to L.A. under wraps until the regular-season home schedule has concluded in each affected city. (Things will get interesting if the Rams, Chargers, or Raiders qualify for home playoff games.)

So which proposed site will win the race to host the NFL?

“You’ve got the Inglewood site that is shovel ready,” York said. “It’s much further ahead than any other site. ... Carson is a viable site, but Inglewood is ahead because you could literally start tomorrow.”

The Rams would play in Inglewood, possibly with one other team. The Chargers and Raiders would play in Carson.

While York believes Inglewood currently is in the lead, Inglewood could be out of luck if the Rams stay in St. Louis. Some think owner Stan Kroenke, who has a well-earned reputation for saying nothing about his intentions, eventually could strike a deal to stay put -- which would put Carson in play.

Unless, of course, the folks in Inglewood quickly pivot and persuade the Chargers and Raiders that Inglewood would be a superior location.

Either way, the NFL is returning to L.A. not amid fanfare and surprise but through a slowing-growing sense of inevitability.