On the eve of NFL Draft, Judge Susan Nelson has denied the NFL's request to allow the lockout to continue. The NFL must now seek a stay from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal to prevent an immediate start to the 2011 league season.
The NFL has released the following statement:
"We are filing tonight a request with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay of the preliminary injunction pending our appeal. We believe there are strong legal and practical reasons that support a stay and that the Court of Appeals should have an opportunity to address the important legal issues that will be presented. We have asked the Court of Appeals to consider on an expedited basis both our request for a stay and the appeal itself. We are evaluating the District Court's decision and will advise our clubs in the morning on how to proceed."
For NFL fans, does this mean that teams are closer to signing Free Agents and holding Minicamps? That remains unclear.
Judge Nelson's injunction will compel the NFL to start business. From the Players' perspective, until a stay is granted, the NFL should begin to create rules for a 2011 and allow Free Agents to start contract negotiations for their services. NFL agents have already started contacting clubs to market their clients.
Initial observations from the NFL side, however, seem to show that Owners are continuing to sit in a holding formation, maintaining the status quo. This could be a risky strategy, as the Owners could find themselves in contempt of court if they refuse to recognize Judge Nelson's injunction. Nelson's order doesn't specify any specific rules for a new season. The NFL is free to draw up novel rules that would restrict player transactions, but even if the NFL were to adopt the same rules from the 2010 season, they would undoubtedly open themselves up to further anti-trust violations.
The NFL is now banking on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a stay on Nelson's injunction, and to issue a stay sooner than later.
For now, the labor strife enters a no-man's land where the lockout is lifted but the NFL has yet to lift the locks. Don't expect a resolution before the end of the Draft.