Throughout the years, a number of teams in the National Football League (NFL) have either moved or merged.

In the early years, the NFL was not stable and teams moved frequently to survive, or were folded only to be resurrected in a different city with the same players and owners. The Great Depression era saw the movement of most surviving small-town NFL teams to the large cities to ensure survival. Franchise mergers were popular during World War II in response to the scarcity of players. Few of these relocations and mergers were accompanied with widespread controversy.

Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late 20th century when a vastly more popular NFL, free from financial instability, allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. Despite a Pete Rozelle promise to Congress not to relocate franchises in return for a law exempting the league from certain aspects of antitrust laws, making possible the AFL–NFL merger, several franchises have relocated in the years since the merger and the passage of the law (Public Law 89-800) which sanctioned it.

While owners invariably cited financial difficulties as the primary factor in such moves, many fans bitterly disputed these contentions, especially in Baltimore, St. Louis, and Cleveland, each of which eventually received teams some years after their original franchises left. However, Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States, did not have an NFL team from 1995 to 2015. The league had started actively promoting a return to Los Angeles no later than 2006,[1] and in January 2016, the NFL gave the St. Louis Rams approval to move back to Los Angeles. A year later, the San Diego Chargers also relocated to the city, while the Oakland Raiders are scheduled to relocate to Las Vegas in 2020.

Within the United States, the San Diego–Tijuana market is currently the largest metropolitan area (and only one with over 3 million residents) without an NFL franchise. The only other city to be seriously considered in the country in recent times was San Antonio, Texas, which the Raiders seriously considered as a relocation candidate in 2014 before choosing Las Vegas instead. Speculation on future relocation has mainly been centered around two larger cities outside the United States: Toronto, Canada (q.v. National Football League in Toronto) and London, England, United Kingdom (q.v. Potential London NFL franchise), the latter of which would be the first attempt by one of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada to place a team outside North America.

Additionally, with the increasing suburbanization of the U.S., the building of new stadiums and other team facilities in the suburbs instead of the central city became popular from the 1970s on, though at the turn of the 21st century a reverse shift back to the central city became somewhat evident.


Teams making more significant moves, in chronological order

The NFL considers these continuous franchises that relocated to different metropolitan areas.

The list also includes franchises from the 1960s American Football League that moved during that league's existence. The NFL and AFL agreed to merge in 1966, with the merger taking effect in 1970. All AFL franchises were accepted into the NFL, and the NFL incorporated the AFL's history, records, and statistics.

Quasi-moves: movement of more or less intact teams from one city to another

The NFL considers these separate franchises but there is significant continuity from one to the other

Franchise mergers

Teams moving between cities/boroughs within their metropolitan area, chronologically by team's first such move

Temporary moves, in chronological order

The following are not actually relocations, but temporary moves because these teams' home stadiums were either under construction or otherwise adversely affected:

Ultimate disposition of the 15 charter franchises

By the start of the 1920 APFA season, the nascent National Football League was composed of 15 franchises. Of those teams, only two are still in operation as of 2016 (denoted in bold):

  • Akron Pros: Changed name to Akron Indians in 1926. Permanently suspended operations in 1927.
  • Buffalo All-Americans: Changed name to Buffalo Bisons in 1924, Buffalo Rangers in 1926, and changed back to Buffalo Bisons in 1927 before suspending operations halfway through 1927. Resumed play in 1929, but folded following the season. City is currently represented by the Buffalo Bills, a charter member of the American Football League in 1960.
  • Canton Bulldogs: Cleveland Bulldogs in 1923. Suspended operations in 1924. Resumed play in Canton in 1925. Folded following 1926 season. City is currently represented only by the preseason Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
  • Chicago Cardinals: Merged with Pittsburgh Steelers for one year in 1944. Returned as an independent team in 1945. Moved to St. Louis in 1960. Moved to Phoenix in 1988. Changed name to Arizona Cardinals in 1994.
  • Chicago Tigers: Folded following 1920 season.
  • Cleveland Tigers: Folded following 1921 season. City is currently represented by the Cleveland Browns.
  • Columbus Panhandles: Changed name to Columbus Tigers in 1923. Folded following 1926 season.
  • Dayton Triangles: Moved to Brooklyn as Brooklyn Dodgers in 1930. Changed name to Brooklyn Tigers in 1944. Merged with Boston Yanks in 1945. Folded after 1945 season. Through multiple successor franchises, the modern Indianapolis Colts can trace their indirect lineage to the Triangles.[9]
  • Decatur Staleys: Moved to Chicago in 1921. Changed name to Chicago Bears in 1922.
  • Detroit Heralds: Changed name to "Tigers" and folded in the middle of the 1921 season, sending its players to Buffalo. City currently represented by the Detroit Lions.
  • Hammond Pros: Folded following 1926 season.
  • Massillon Tigers: Represented at the September 17, 1920, meeting by Ralph Hay but never played in the league and are only counted as a charter member on a technicality.
  • Muncie Flyers: Folded following 1921 season.
  • Rochester Jeffersons: Suspended operations following 1925 season; folded in 1928.
  • Rock Island Independents: Left NFL and became an independent team following 1924 season. Joined first American Football League in 1926, but folded before end of season.

See also



  • Official 2005 National Football League Record and Fact Book. New York: Time Inc. Home Entertainment. (2005). ISBN 1-932994-36-X
  • Carroll, Bob; with Gershman, Michael, Neft, David, and Thorn, John (1999). Total Football:The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270174-6
  • McDonough, Will (1994). 75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc. ISBN 1-57036-056-1
  • Peterson, Robert W. (1997). Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507607-9
  • Willis, Chris (2010). The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8108-7669-9
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