Ump Decks Darby

Is the NFL coming back to St. Louis?

Pro football fans’ hearts are beating a little faster over speculation that the NFL may award an expansion team as part of a settlement with the city in a relocation lawsuit that is set to go to trial in January.

Right now, an expansion team is purely speculation, but NFL insiders say the concept has been “floated” during discussions over the litigation involving the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles in 2016 as a way to help resolve the case.

That’s all it takes for area football fans to get excited for the prospect of more gridiron glory on Sundays in St. Louis. And the excitement is building. We hope it’s more than speculation.

That relocation litigation hasn’t gone Rams owner and billionaire sports mogul Stan Kroenke’s way. So far, Kroenke and the NFL have taken it on the chin.

Lawyers representing the NFL, the Rams and Kroenke have failed in their efforts to get the case dismissed outright, heard by arbitrators rather than a jury or moved out of St. Louis. They have lost motions for summary judgment in efforts to prevent Kroenke and other NFL owners from turning over three years’ worth of financial records.

St. Louis attorney Sarah Swatosh said she thinks “the city has the NFL by the throat.” If punitive damages were awarded, she said the St. Louis parties would have no difficulty making the case for a payment of $1 billion or more.

“This thing has been going on since 2011,” she said of Kroenke’s behind-the-scenes machinations. “It’s like ‘Game of Thrones.’ It’s only going to get better. You’ve just got to stay with it.”

As the legal setbacks for Kroenke and the NFL continue, they may indeed choose to settle the case to avoid a trial that could prove costly and embarrassing.

If that settlement includes throwing in an NFL expansion team for St. Louis, all the better. St. Louis proved it is worthy of an NFL team. We supported the Rams (and the Football Cardinals before) in good times and in bad. We all remember the Rams Super Bowl win, but the truth is there were more bad years than good during their 20-year tenure here. Still, the fans showed up. And much of that loyal fan base came from Franklin County.

Suggestions by Kroenke and others that St. Louis didn’t support the Rams or wasn’t a good sports city as they were exiting town are nonsense. Kroenke left St. Louis for Los Angeles because of money, not for any other reason.

Reports say Kroenke has agreed to indemnify the rest of the league for whatever the verdict may be in a trial. But our guess is the NFL is probably wondering whether Kroenke will stand by that agreement and whether it wants its dirty laundry aired in a trial that could damage its reputation.

An NFL expansion team in St. Louis is looking better every day.