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NFL talks on hold, judge’s ruling next

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Mediated talks between the NFL and its locked-out players were put on hold until mid-May on Wednesday, leaving the two sides waiting for a ruling by a federal judge on the players’ request for an injunction to end the sport’s shutdown.

That ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson could come soon. She told attorneys for the league and the players at the end of an April 6 hearing in her St. Paul, Minn., courtroom that she would need a couple of weeks to rule on the players’ request for a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout.

The talks were adjourned until May 16. Representatives of the league and the players’ side met for two days this week after two days of joint meetings last week with Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan in Minneapolis. Nelson appointed Boylan as the mediator when she ordered the league and the players’ side last week to resume talks.

The break enables Boylan to return to his caseload while the league and the players’ side focus on Nelson’s ruling and the legal maneuvering that will follow. Either side could appeal Nelson’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

“This was consistent with the expectation that she would issue her opinion in about two weeks,” said Michael D. Hausfeld, an attorney for retired players whose lawsuit was combined by Nelson with the current players’ lawsuit. “I would think that decision is imminent.”

Hausfeld said by telephone that the talks with Boylan produced “an honest and candid exchange of everyone’s positions” that could be useful when the mediation resumes.

If Nelson grants the players’ request, the league would seek a stay of the injunction pending its appeal. That request would be made first to Nelson and, if she rejects it, to the federal appeals court. If Nelson grants the players’ request for an injunction and the NFL is unable to win a stay, the sport would go back into operation at least temporarily.

Sources have said the league would be likely to use last season’s rules, which did not include a salary cap, if the lockout is lifted.

Also on Wednesday, the players’ side released a letter from a law firm, which it did not identify, to players saying the firm hopes to represent 70 or more current or potential NFL players who have expressed an interest in having a say in the negotiations and litigation.

The letter said the firm intends to work cooperatively with the players currently represented in the litigation but believes its clients will be more typical of the average player. On its Twitter accout, the NFL Players Association, now a trade association for the players, called the letter “another attempt to divide players.”

The Sports Business Daily reported earlier Wednesday that the group of players hoped to be represented in the mediated talks.

The lockout began March 12, one day after a previous round of negotiations supervised by federal mediator George H. Cohen collapsed. The players dissolved their union March 11 and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the sport’s franchise owners.

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