Jerry Jones: NFL return to L.A. near

OXNARD, Calif. -- Los Angeles is nearing 20 years without an NFL team, but Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn't think the second-biggest market in the country will be without an NFL team for long.

"Closer than ever -- ever being since they left, which has been a long time, much to my surprise and anticipation," Jones said Saturday when asked if the NFL was close to returning to Los Angeles. "There are some viable ways for a team or teams to be in Los Angeles. We've got some very talented and very qualified people that want to be a part of it that are not a part of the league right now. We, obviously, have people within the league that want this very much."

Jones spoke before his Cowboys opened training camp in Oxnard, Calif., a coastal city 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Since 2001, the Cowboys have held at least a portion of their training camp in Oxnard eight times. From 1963 to 1989, they held their training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., which is 45 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Last year, Jones' son, Stephen, who sits on the NFL's stadium committee, said getting a team in Los Angeles was a top priority for the NFL, and Jerry Jones said that has not changed.

"I think we're closer," Jones said. "I say that not just wishing. I say that, technically, because I'm aware of some things that make sense."

Jones was hesitant to put a time frame on the NFL's return to Los Angeles but did think progress was being made for it to happen in the near future.

"How long does it take to build a stadium?" Jones said. "I know how long it took to build one. The other thing is that there's certainly ways to do it without having a stadium ready. Those are some moving parts, but you have to have the commitment [from the team], which for the people that make those kinds of commitments, it starts that day for them in a serious way. I wouldn't want to give you a time frame on it, but I do think that the commitment and the substance with that commitment is right around the corner."

The Los Angeles Raiders and Los Angeles Rams played their last games in Southern California on Christmas Eve 1994 before moving to Oakland and St. Louis, respectively. Almost 20 years later, the Raiders and Rams, along with the San Diego Chargers, are the most viable teams to move to Los Angeles if they can't get their current stadium issues resolved. The Raiders and Chargers can get out of their current leases after the 2013 season, while the Rams can get out of their lease after the 2014 season.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the NFL is not considering expanding from 32 teams, and if Los Angeles were to get a team, it would come via relocation.

Last year Goodell sent a memo to all 32 organizations that said no single team has any "presumptive right" to play in Los Angeles and that only the league can make a decision on relocation. Any franchise interested in relocating to Los Angeles must apply between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15 and prove it has exhausted all attempts to remain in its current location the following season.

There are currently two proposed stadium sites for a future NFL team in Los Angeles.

Farmers Field, a proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles by Anschutz Entertainment Group, and a competing stadium proposed by real estate magnate Ed Roski in the City of Industry. Both are "shovel ready" but need a long-term commitment from a team before construction can begin. If construction does begin, it could take up to four years to complete.

In the meantime, the NFL team that relocates to Los Angeles would play in either the L.A. Coliseum or the Rose Bowl.

There had been some speculation that AEG's Farmers Field was doomed after the company was taken off the sales block earlier this year and former president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who was the driving force behind the project, left the company. AEG owner Philip Anschutz, however, said he is still committed to the project and to returning the NFL to L.A., and Jones said he likes the project and Anschutz.

"There are no misgivings at all about it," Jones said of Farmers Field. "It has outstanding people involved. Phil Anschutz is an outstanding individual and would be an asset in any way for any group to be involved with, and he has quite a sports background and quite a background in venues so that project. I'm actually involved in a company that just hired the lead guy that was involved in putting that Farmers Field project together, so all those people have a lot of talent. It's not a negative. It's a plus."

Jones, born in El Segundo, Calif., a city in Los Angeles County located on the Santa Monica Bay, spoke about his affinity for Southern California after opening his first training camp in nearby Thousand Oaks nearly 25 years ago and winning his first Super Bowl in Pasadena. He understands many in Los Angeles may be skeptical about the NFL returning to Los Angeles after being away for so long. There is a constant feeling that Los Angeles is simply being used as a threat for current teams to get new stadiums. In fact, since the Raiders and Rams left Los Angeles in 1994, 24 new stadiums have been built for 25 teams. Jones, however, reiterated the league's commitment to making it happen soon.

"I've never, ever been a part of any meeting or committee ever that didn't want, as quickly as we could, to get a team in L.A.," Jones said. "I've heard that that could be a threat to people moving their teams out, but that's not right. We've always preferred to get a team here."