In the four days since the apparent collapse of the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill, the NFL and team officials have done a fine job of ratcheting up the pressure, much as we suggested they should do.
League executive vice president Eric Grubman confirmed there are "plenty of willing buyers" who want to purchase and presumably relocate the team. Vikings vice president Lester Bagley made the media rounds Thursday, saying the team has done all it can and urging state legislators to reconsider before the team considers other options. And NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will be joined in Minnesota on Friday by Pittsburgh Steelers president/co-owner Art Rooney, the chairman of the league's stadium committee, to explain the league's increasingly impatient stance.
None of this should be surprising to you. Nor should it change your thoughts on the issue, as long as you realized from the start that the league would not sit idly if the stadium bill faltered this year. My suggestion is to take a deep breath and understand we have entered an important and more pressurized phase of the process, but certainly not (yet) the endgame of this franchise in Minnesota.
The best way to understand what's happening at the moment is that the state has 12 days remaining of exclusivity with the franchise. That's how long the Minnesota state legislature is scheduled to remain in session. For now, the team and the league are squarely focused on reviving the issue in Minnesota. Importantly, however, the state is not 12 days away from losing the franchise -- not when NFL teams are ineligible to apply for relocation until Feb. 15, 2013.
Already, it appears that some state legislators are responding to the increased pressure. According to WCCO political reporter Pat Kessler, a state Senate committee will hold hearings on the stadium bill Friday. There have also been new pledges to push the bill through other committees.
If there is no resolution when the legislature adjourns, the realistic consequence will be a loss of that exclusivity. It's reasonable to think that owner Zygi Wilf will at least explore a firesale that would eventually lead to relocation, putting the state in competition for the franchise, but not necessarily on a path to losing it. The league's relocation deadline in essence would create a nine-month bidding window.
As we know from NFL free agency, there are no guarantees once a player hits the open market. A team can only ensure a player's return by re-signing him before he's eligible to move on. But there are many cases when a player re-signs after testing his value on the open market. There would be nothing to stop the state of Minnesota from continuing to work on the stadium issue even while Wilf explores other options, and the guess here is that Wilf and the NFL would even then prefer a Minnesota stadium agreement over a sale and/or relocation.
You should be aware that NFL teams have acted swifly in the past, relocating without giving a deadline or even an explicit warning. There would be nothing stopping Wilf from throwing his hands up, selling the team to a Los Angeles investor next month and being done with it. So I'm not questioning the gravity of the situation.
All I'm saying is you should understand where this issue is -- and more importantly where it hasn't gone yet -- and know that this is now a higher-stakes game, but one that remains eminently winnable for Minnesota.