Last week, in a fanpost titled "A TRADE DOWN" I indicated that despite what the experts were predicting, I believed that the Federal Judge would rule in favor of the Players and grant an injunction to end the lockout and trades would occur, Though the ruling has been widely reported, there is little information about what this will mean to the upcoming draft.
I am a retired judge with some background in labor law. I thought a brief analysis and review might be helpful.
The NFL is an association that, by collective agreement, colludes to fix prices (the salary cap, revenue sharing, etc) limit free association of employment (the draft, restricted free agency, franchise player tags, etc) clearly in violation of federal anti-trust laws. However, an exemption to anti-trust laws exists where multiple employers can negotiate a contract with an employee union to restrict those rights. Without this exemption from normal anti-trust laws to allow competitive balance between teams, the NFL (and other league sports) as we know them cannot exist. In essence, every player would be allowed to work for the highest bidder. No draft, pure and absolute free agency. No revenue sharing. All of the free agency rulings and player strikes in organized sports have centered on modifying the terms and scope of this exemption.
The owners legally "opted out" of the continuing terms of the previous labor agreement, rendering it null and void. The players "de-certified" their union to make it so that the owners would not be protected by the anti-trust exemption (it only applies to UNION negotiation). Almost by its very existence, the league violates anti-trust laws. With the union de-certified, the players were able to file individual suits - alledging the violations that they had previously agreed to. The owners, under threat of treble damages for continuing to operate, were forced to lock out the players. The players filed for and received an injunction preventing the owners from continuing the lockout. This ruling does not say that the players are right and the owners are wrong; rather, it seekes to maintain the status-quo until the issues are resolved. The problem: without any agreement to guide their actions and provide antitrust exemption, how can they proceed with "business as usual". The players, through their injunction, are attempting to force the owners to violate the law in the very manner for which they are alleging damage.
The owners have filed for a stay (a delay in implementing the ruling from the judge that ordered it) and an appeal from a higher court (also requesting a stay)of this ruling. They will lose. However, I can see them postponing the draft and other business pending clarification and direction (and anti-trust protection) from the courts. If the draft can be delayed, it will be, but with the investment already in it and expectations so high, they probably will go ahead with it but err on the side of cation and not allow trades.
BOTTOM LINE: The players have started this action, not for really for material gain, but rather "because they can". Although Adrian Peterson dreams of being "freed from slavery" and Peyton Manning dreams of unrestricted millions, they know that absolute free agency would destroy football. Large markets would employ all of the best players. The players want to twist the owner's tail. I foresee a return to "business as usual" with direction and a degree of temporary anti-trust protection for the owners from the courts. Eventually, a new bargaining agreement will be hammered out. The owners will have to "pony up" revenue figures.