ST. LOUIS — ESPN's bombshell report from reporter Seth Wickersham on Wednesday certainly got more people around the country talking about the ongoing lawsuit between St. Louis and the NFL over the relocation of the Rams.
The article detailed the recent owners' meeting where Rams owner Stan Kroenke's possible plans to skirt paying for the cost of the trial were revealed.
Attorney and sports legal analyst Daniel Wallach had some takeaways from the report, which makes an already rosy-looking situation for St. Louis look even better.
"Never in his wildest dreams did Kroenke believe that the league and him personally would be vulnerable to a multi-billion dollar damages award," Wallach said. "But when you look at the different component parts of the lawsuit, there is a lot of money when you stack up all the different damage calculations and computations. It could wipe out a minimum of half of Stan Kroenke's net worth. No lawsuit like this has ever gone to a jury in the 40 years of the NFL's relocation policy from when it was originally crafted in 1984."
The ESPN article detailed an exchange between Giants owner John Mara and the rest of the owners, NFL executives, and lawyers in the room. In the exchange, Mara reportedly openly said the owners wouldn't have approved the Rams' move from St. Louis if Kroenke had not signed the indemnification agreement to pay for any legal troubles that arose.
"It makes me question how John Mara ever passed the bar exam in New Jersey. You know he's a lawyer? That's like one of the dumbest statements that could ever come out of a lawyer's mouth. As the owner of the Giants, he's gotta understand that leaks around the NFL are pretty commonplace. The fact that this information leaked out of a confidential owner's meeting... That raises questions as to where the leaks are emanating from," Wallach said. "But what John Mara just did was essentially admit that either the NFL did not follow the relocation guidelines at all, or even if it did the guidelines did not justify a move to LA. Because he's saying, 'We wouldn't have voted for it unless you agreed to cover our tab in respect to legal damages, legal costs, fees, punitive damages, and the entire thing'. Because absent of that indemnification agreement, the ownership wasn't voting in favor of the relocation. Which means that it either did not qualify under the guidelines... or it's essentially gifting St. Louis their theory of the case in that the NFL did not follow the guidelines or the guidelines did not support the relocation. Either result is not good for the NFL. It essentially gift-wraps the case in favor of the City of St. Louis. Provided they can get over the hurdle of convincing a jury that the quote, unquote relocation policy is in fact a contract to which the City of St. Louis enjoys the status of a third-party beneficiary, and I think the judge has already ruled that in the place. So these are the three elements the city needs to prevail on its claim and Mara just may have given the City of St. Louis the missing piece."
The ESPN piece also detailed the rising tensions between owners, with many upset with Kroenke while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones coming to his defense.
"It sent a shock into my system when you hear owners saying, 'He's not going to be questioned without his lawyer present.' It shows you that there is a lot of discontent and owners are not necessarily seeing eye-to-eye. But they're very angry with Stan Kroenke and there wasn't a lot of support in the room for him," Wallach said.
Wallach said the revelations from the owners' meeting should only help the case for St. Louis.
"It strengthens St. Louis' hand considerably because the owners are not presenting a unified front. They're like rats jumping off a sinking ship," Wallach said.
So, what are the chances this still goes to trial? Or could it still be settled beforehand?
"A trial would be insanity for the National Football League. It is the last resort. Under no circumstances should the league take a case like this to a St. Louis jury that is poised to award potentially, $1 billion or more of damages," Wallach said. "Because once it goes to a trial and a jury renders a verdict on a lot of factual issues here, the NFL's chances before an appellate court are going to go down significantly. Because factual determinations made by a jury are usually respected by appellate courts."
And if there is a settlement before or after trial, could a new NFL team in St. Louis really be a possibility?
"I've been theorizing that since late September. And it's all about the damage model. If the damages in this case are $1 billion or more, you're looking for a very strong hand for the city to play to potentially leverage a new team out of this in a settlement of the lawsuit," Wallach said.