Brady, Manning, Brees file antitrust suit against NFL to prevent lockout

The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 11:40 PM

MINNEAPOLIS -- Star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were among 10 players who sued the NFL in federal court Friday, accusing the league of conspiracy and anticompetitive practices that date back years.

Their lawsuit asked the court to prevent a lockout.

Less than two hours after the players' union decertified, clearing the way for antitrust lawsuits, the players filed their 52-page claim and supporting documents in U.S. District Court. They asked the court for class-action status.

They filed a request for an injunction that would keep the NFL and the teams from engaging in a lockout. Invoking the Sherman Act, a federal antitrust statute from 1890 that limits monopolies and restrictions on commerce, the players said they were entitled to triple the amount of any damages they've incurred.

Which means the stakes could be in the hundreds of millions.

The players accused the 32 NFL teams of conspiring to deny their ability to market their services "through a patently unlawful group boycott and price-fixing arrangement or, in the alternative, a unilaterally imposed set of anticompetitive restrictions on player movement, free agency and competitive market freedom."

The collective bargaining agreement with the league was expiring Friday.

The NFL did not immediately file a response. Commissioner Roger Goodell called on the union to re-open negotiations.

A hearing date hasn't been set.

The legal wrangling took place in a federal courthouse in Minnesota, hundreds of miles from the mediated negotiations in Washington. It's the setting for what could be a long legal fight between owners and players with the 2011 season in jeopardy.

The names on the complaint were striking: Brady, Brees, Manning and a few others, listed in a block of text at the top of the first page. They're plaintiffs, for now, not simply players.

They allege that the NFL conspired to deny the players' ability to market their services in what is a $9 billion business. They spelled out what they called a long history of NFL antitrust violations, citing as constraints the potential lockout, rookie salary limitations and the franchise and transition player designations. Teams use those designations to keep key free agents off the open market, but the players also are well compensated when they sign new contracts.

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