DeMaurice Smith's strategy of decertification and litigation appears to be working for the moment. Round one of Courtroom football goes to the Players, with a ruling today to lift the lockout by the NFL.
Nelson not impressed by NFL arguments
From the first moments of questioning in the hearing to determine whether to lift the lockout or not, it was clear the the NFL's arguments were not on solid ground. The tone and force of Judge Susan Nelson’s questioning on April 6th was much more strident and aggressive towards the NFL than towards the Players. And to arguments from the NFL that the case did not belong in her court but rather with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), she pushed back. She wanted the case; she got the case; and she ruled for the players.
And as to the lockout, I think she showed her hand when she asked the NFL attorney, in so many words: “So if I don’t lift this lockout, it could go on forever?” That was telling (and yes, theoretically, it could).
As to arguments of "irreparable harm" and "public interest", Judge Nelson clearly agreed with the Players, who are on greater footing with the NFL through litigation rather than collective bargaining.
Going back decades, this District Court in Minnesota has produced victories for NFL players, from the John Mackey case to the Freeman McNeil case to the eventual settlement of the Reggie White case.
The NFL will seek an immediate stay of the injunction, asking first Nelson and then the Eighth Circuit to hold off on lifting the lockout until the appeals process goes through. That will happen soon -- within a day or two -- but don't expect signings and trades right away. The NFL needs to set rules to operate under and without that, no team will have any contact with players.
Before anything else, the NFL has to establish rules to operate under. Those rules will likely be the 2011 rules -- no Salary Cap, six years until free agency, 30% rule, etc. -- but not in place just yet.
And, as the NFL's Greg Aiello told me Monday night:"We do not intend to start the league year until we have had an opportunity to seek a stay."
What about players reporting?
Today could be a day like no other in NFL history. Players and the NFLPA -- trade association version -- had their calls last night to determine a course of action. NFL teams had a similar call.
There is no telling what could happen. There are 1900 players and some may have heard or received a text about football being back in business and start knocking on the team's door.
NFL teams would be wise to let players in their facilities, as failure to do so would violate a court order. NFL teams will also be instructed to not talk to players about contracts or allow workouts, as that could impose injury liability for the year.
In all of these machinations, let's not lose sight of what this all is really about: getting a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the NFL to operate under for years to come.
Even if the lockout is lifted upon appeal for a stay, we will still be under some temporary rules -- likely the 2010 rules -- where teams will be hesitant to commit large sums due to labor uncertainty, even moreso than in 2010. Also, players would need six, rather than four years of service, to be free agents, leading to a diluted group of free agents and a disgruntled group of fourth and fifth year players.
All of Courtroom football is simply about jockeying for position to have some leverage in negotiations going forward.
The first quarter of Courtroom football goes to the Players, who take an early lead although -- unfortunately for fans -- a lot of time left in the game.
The NFL is filing for a stay of the injunction (lifting of lockout) as we speak. Stay tuned.
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