Questions and answers on the NFL labor dispute

April 26, 2011

Has the lockout been lifted — or not?

Yes, a federal district court judge in Minnesota — Susan Richard Nelson — sided with the players in an 89-page ruling Monday, declaring that the players were suffering irreparable harm under the owner-imposed lockout and that it must be lifted. However, the NFL is seeking to keep the lockout in place by requesting a stay of the judge’s ruling, and also by appealing her decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

So is the NFL open for business?

Not exactly. The league is advising its 32 teams to be friendly and courteous to players, but to ask them to leave if they show up at team facilities until the judge has ruled on the request for the stay, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello.

Can teams sign free agents or make trades?

Technically, yes, but in reality, no. The NFL doesn’t want its teams making any transactions until the judge rules on the stay. Besides, there are no rules in place under which they could actually conduct business The league would have to announce a set of rules before signing or trading players.

Will there be a season?

Most experts say that is more likely with Monday’s ruling. Some say that’s because the players got a boost of leverage and the hope — still just a hope — that they can keep the league’s doors open, which would allow a season to be played.

Others say that, even if Monday’s ruling is overturned, the potential for never-ending legal twists and turns also helps push the players back to the field, in this case shifting leverage to the owners.

Sooner or later, experts say, everyone will tire of the seemingly endless litigation with the more legally threatened side ready to make concessions. The key to having a season, experts say, is getting the matter out of the court room and back to the negotiating table.

If the judge denies the stay, the league will have to start operating, right?

Not quite yet. The NFL would likely appeal that ruling to the appellate court, which might take several days or even a couple of weeks. The league would probably urge its teams to remain in a holding pattern, not signing players or inviting them to use team facilities, until the matter of the stay is completely resolved legally.

So what is the earliest point at which free agency and player signings will begin?

If the appeals court denies the stay in the next week or so, free agency likely would begin almost immediately and players would have to be allowed to use team facilities. Of course, the league would have to put in place some sort of interim rules governing trades, free agency, rookie signings and other transactions.

The judge clobbered the NFL in her ruling. Is the league toast?

Many suspect the Eighth Circuit — known as a pro-business, economically friendly court — will favor the NFL and not only will grant the stay, but possibly overturn Monday’s decision on the lockout. So, not yet.

So the lockout could return?

Yes. It will return either if a stay is granted or if the judge’s Monday ruling is overturned on appeal. The NFL speculated in a motion it filed this week that the appeal would be heard by June.

Is there a chance the judge will impose a financial system on the league?

Sure, but certainly not now. All parties agree the people best situated to make a deal are the owners and players. But neither side, apparently, has felt threatened enough legally to come crawling back to talks — which will begin again May 16 under the court’s mediation. The players have won in round one. The NFL believes it will win at the appeals level. No one is raising the white flag — yet.

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