SAN FRANCISCO — Los Angeles might be in the NFL's future sooner than anyone thought.
The NFL could approve a team move to Los Angeles by the end of the year, with a club playing in the area by the 2016 season.
NFL vice president Eric Grubman, the league's lead man on a possible return to LA, said Wednesday the window for such applications that now begins Jan. 1 could be moved "to very late in the (upcoming) regular season." The 32 team owners could vote on a team's relocation "some weeks after that."
The team would play in an existing stadium until a new one is built.
Grubman said there were several options, though he declined to list them beyond the Rose Bowl and LA Coliseum, which was the Raiders' home before heading back to Oakland in 1995. Anaheim, where the Rams played before leaving for St. Louis that same year, also could be a temporary home for a relocated team, as could Dodger Stadium.
Grubman said there has been enough progress "to the point where we think there could be at least one, and maybe two relocation proposals available to act on in time for the 2016 season. It's not done, so I don't label it as certain."
Commissioner Roger Goodell also was upbeat on LA.
"We're significantly farther than we have been on any relocation in the recent past," he said as the meetings concluded.
The Rams, Raiders and Chargers are involved in stadium projects in the Los Angeles area that Commissioner Roger Goodell has called "viable." Grubman said there have been discussions on moving one or two teams if no acceptable stadium projects come together in the current markets. San Diego and Oakland have teamed up on one LA project, in Carson, California. The Rams' project is in Inglewood.
"I think that when clubs have spent years trying to get something done and have reached that point in time where they explore their alternatives," Grubman added at the spring owners meetings, "whether it's in Los Angeles or any other market, and that exploration provides something that they can actually go do, then what happens is the timeframe gets defined."
The NFL also said if a stadium is built by 2018, Los Angeles would be a candidate to host the 2020 Super Bowl. Tampa, New Orleans, Atlanta and South Florida already are contenders for the games of 2019 and 2020.
A special owners meeting could be called for August should there be enough progress in Southern California — or even by St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego toward retaining their teams.
Grubman stressed that the burden is on St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland to present attractive stadium proposals to keep their teams. A new $1 billion stadium has been proposed in St. Louis; Rams owner Stan Kroenke is planning to build a $1.8 billion facility in Inglewood.
San Diego and Oakland are much further behind on any stadium projects.
"There are some really important variables that are beyond our control," Grubman said. "Most important is what the home markets do. That will define what each of the clubs wants to do and what the membership will do."
Colts owner Jim Irsay, familiar with moving a franchise because his father did so from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984, has little doubt the NFL will be back in Los Angeles soon.
"One thing for certain is there's going to be an NFL team in Los Angeles in the next couple of years," Irsay said. "That's exciting. The question isn't if, but how many, I guess."
Goodell also said:
—There is "renewed interest" in staging a regular-season game in Mexico and possibly Germany. Rio de Janeiro has expressed interest in hosting a Pro Bowl.
—The league office is looking into changes in the procedures for the handling and securing of footballs before games, in the wake of the Patriots' deflated footballs scandal. "I do anticipate changes will take place before the 2015 season," he said.
—The NFL will continue to use outside entities such as Robert Mueller and Ted Wells when needed, but also will conduct probes internally with its own investigators.
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this story.