The wild story percolating around NFL league circles right now is the report from Monday night about. It's just speculation right now, albeit speculation that involves the NFL's apparent blessing and the Chargers perhaps unwitting approach to moving across the pond.
The Chargers emphasized their interest in making Los Angeles work to The Athletic, who originally reported the story, and on Tuesday morning (Jones was the key cog in getting the Rams and Chargers to L.A.). But that doesn't mean this story is going away. And one aspect of the story continues to really reverberate: potential realignment.
It's sort of shrugged off in The Athletic piece, but one huge problem with sending the Chargers to London would be the primary divisional games between teams located in Denver, Oakland/Las Vegas and Kansas City. The AFC West is, well, west. And that's not great for a team traveling from London, which is significantly due east of the United States.
Will Brinson and the Pick Six Superfriends break down the Cowboys win over the Giants and the possibility of the Chargers moving to London. Listen to the show below and be sure to subscribe right here for daily NFL goodness.
So what would happen? According to the original report, one of two things. Let's look at them in more detail.
Chargers to the AFC South
In this situation, the Chargers and Texans would flip divisions, with the Texans moving to the AFC West and the Chargers moving to the AFC South. From an "integrity of the history of the game" standpoint (basically don't burn down tradition for money), this would make the most sense. The Chargers already left San Diego and are moving to London in this hypothetical, so we're not going to get too caught up in their sense of tradition. They're nomads at this point. The AFC South was created in 2002. It has no real historical significance outside of the Colts (not from Indy!) and Texans (expansion team!) not liking each other. The Jaguars are another expansion team and the Titans moved from Houston. The tradition is not rich here. Shifting around the division wouldn't be a big deal.
From a travel standpoint the AFC South would be vastly preferable. The NFL scheduling gurus already have plenty to deal with as it is, but mixing a London TEAM in there would be chaos. That team can't fly back and forth each week. The Chargers would need their schedule broken up into quadrants, basically. Four weeks in London, four weeks in the U.S., four weeks in London, four weeks in the U.S. It would be a huge mess.
Looking at their 2020 opponents (which includes the AFC South), the Chargers away games would include the following: one of the Steelers/Browns/Ravens/Bengals, one each of the Jaguars/Colts/Titans and also the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Saints. So you would need to try and divvy those up into two manageable four-game swings.
Operating under that very lose approach to schedule making (and this presumes no 17- or 18-game situation with a double bye obviously), the Chargers could fly to New York from London and play the Bills in Buffalo. Then fly to Indianapolis the following week to play the Colts. Then fly to New Orleans the following week to play the Saints. Then fly to Miami to play the Dolphins after that before returning home for a "bye week."
Then in their second U.S. tour, the Chargers could fly into Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers, head to the rust belt to play whatever AFC North team they're matched up against, go to Nashville after that for a game against the Titans and then play the Jaguars before departing back to London.
OR -- and perhaps the NFL would lean this way -- the Chargers could wrap up their season in the United States. That way, in the event they make the postseason, they wouldn't have to travel from London for the game or, at least, the wild card game they host in London would be "fair" because both teams would be traveling from the U.S.
As for home games, you would have to just send a wave of four teams to London, I suppose. The Chargers would play the Titans, Jaguars, Colts, Panthers, Falcons, Jets, Patriots and one of the Raiders/Texans/Chiefs/Broncos in 2020. So I guess the league just got eight international games and now has to schedule those teams byes around each of those matchups.
This is exhausting to think about, I can't imagine operating like this as a football team. And it's not even the convoluted option.
Chargers to the AFC East
Now THIS is where it gets fun, mainly because it would involve sending Bill Belichick to London every year until he retires. If you told me the NFL was doing this specifically to make it a pain for the Patriots coach, I might believe you. "You thought Deflategate was fun, Bill???"
Under this scenario, the Chargers would move to the AFC East, the Dolphins would move to the AFC South and the Texans would move to the AFC West.
In the schedule mapping I did above, basically we have a situation where you need the Chargers to play one team as a port of entry and one as a port of exit to minimize travel times. It's not required, but you wouldn't want to fly from London to New York, then Miami, then Indy, then Los Angeles and then back to London. So the AFC East would make sense. You have the Patriots, Jets and Bills so each year you would be guaranteed three "port" games for the team coming from London.
That makes some sense, even if you're blowing up the rich tradition of the Patriots inexplicably losing in South Beach every December.
As previously covered, the AFC South rivalries are, like, whatever, man. Sending an old-school franchise like the Dolphins (est. 1966) there feels kind of terrible considering the Dolphins have been in Miami forever, have a rich history, undefeated season, champagne, etc. But they haven't been very good for a long while. I can get behind not being too outraged, although I know at least 10-15 Dolphins fans who will get really mad about the whole thing. The Patriots/Jets/Bills have more of a reason to be upset for competitive reasons.
For divisional road purposes, the Pats/Jets/Bills make the most sense too from a travel standpoint. Everyone is shooting out of the Northeast for a 6.5+ hour flight, but it's the shortest option available.
The Chargers are already playing the AFC East in 2020, so there's some ease of operation here. Realignment could just blow up the entire process for future opponents as well. Let's say they have one team from the AFC North, the Buccaneers, Saints, Patriots, Bills, Jets, Seahawks and Rams. (The AFC East plays the NFC West in 2020, so the Chargers would need two away opponents there.)
One of their four-game trips would involve landing in New York and playing the Bills, then traveling to play the Steelers/Bengals/Browns (we'll assume the Ravens win the division here and the Chargers don't), before heading way out west to play the Rams and then going to Seattle to play the Seahawks before leaving for London and the bye week. That is a brutal swing out west but you don't want to split it up across the two trips and if you're going to send someone 10 hours back from Seattle to London give them a freaking bye after.
The second trip is much more manageable! Fly from London to New York/Boston, play the Patriots, then DON'T FLY, play the Jets in a very nearby stadium, then fly to New Orleans to play the Saints, fly to Tampa to play the Buccaneers and head home. (Or do Pats, Saints, Bucs, Jets, London. All of it sucks for the team in London.)
Whew. So that's a very casually thrown together schedule for a London team. Presumably the NFL has a better idea of how this might work. There's also the matter of what you do with free agents -- "hey want to come visit us and see if you want to work here???" -- which seems easy enough in the offseason with a U.S. home base or something.
But what about tryouts to fill roster spots? Someone gets claimed off waivers and all of a sudden they're living in LONDON? What happens if they get cut two days later? NFL teams churn rosters. It's all manageable -- players fly from New York to Seattle all the time and it's basically the same distance, but London introduces a whole swath of issues we haven't really even thought about until this rumor of the Chargers moving popped up.