For Thursday night’s draft, allowed by a provision in the expired collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union, trades could involve picks but not players.
On Friday morning, the league said, offseason workout programs for players could begin and players could work out at team facilities at other times without supervision by club officials, as long as they provided proof of medical insurance. The league also said it would “promptly” make arrangements to resume the counseling, rehabilitation and treatment portions of its drug-testing programs.
Once they open their doors Friday, league owners will have to be extremely careful about demonstrating any appearance of collusion, according to New York University law professor Robert Boland.
Apprehension about the consequences of their business dealings, Boland said, might mean teams treat this unusual open-for-business stretch with little agreement and in widely varying ways.
“Teams are not going to be able to share as much information and the league is not going to be able to dictate as much to individual teams,” said Boland, an expert in labor and anti-trust law. “You will have great, great disparity as to what teams will do. Some will sign priority free agents; some will sign depth guys; others will sign no one. I think teams will run the gamut on that.”
Boland said he thought some teams would hesitate for fear they would run into problems with an eventual salary cap or other rules instituted later that could compromise deals made under an uncertain system.
Free agency “could offer opportunity, but it could also offer punishment,” he said. “Nobody knows quite what to do.”
Even as the league advertised that it would be opening its doors Friday, it tried mightily to convince the appellate court to grant a stay that would reinstate the lockout. It sought both a stay pending the appeal of Nelson’s decision to lift the lockout — which it speculated could be heard by June — as well as a temporary stay as the court considered the matter.
In a letter to the appellate court, NFL attorney Paul D. Clement said the players had threatened “immediate contempt sanctions” if they did not immediately comply with the district court’s order to lift the lockout. The letter claimed “the plaintiffs’ threat of contempt only underscores the need for a temporary stay.”
In a letter to the court later Thursday, players’ attorney Theodore B. Olson said the NFL claims showed “lack of merit.
“Contrary to the assertion in their letter, the NFL defendants have carefully prepared for this result and are more than ready to resume operations,” Olson wrote.