With mediation between the NFL and players on hold until May 16, the spotlight in the NFL labor dispute is back on U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson.

She is expected to issue a ruling as early as today, according to multiple reports, on the players’ request for a preliminary injunction that would end the lockout. Although players are favored to win this round, either loser would appeal to the Eighth District Court of Appeals. The NFL would seek a stay, seeking to have the lockout remain in place until the appeal is handed down. And Nelson may issue a stay today of her ruling, pending appeal.

“I recognize people try to get leverage in negotiations, but at the end of the day it's going to come down to the negotiations,” Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters and editors at the annual Associated Press Sports Editors meeting Friday. “The sooner we get to that negotiation, the better. I think the litigation has delayed those negotiations.”

Don’t expect any finality as far as free agency goes when Nelson does rule, Peter King writes.

I think the biggest question about Judge Susan Nelson issuing an injunction this week -- which I presume she will do -- to kayo the owners’ lockout of the players is whether she’ll order the league year to start immediately. Will she open the doors and start the league year and order free agency to begin? Or will she issue a stay and say the league can’t begin until the appeals court issues a ruling in the case? Obviously, if free agency begins and teams don’t know if there’s going to be a salary cap this year, there won’t be the willy-nilly spending of some other free-agency periods. And the union could load up with charges of collusion if very good players aren’t pursued in the free market. In short, it could exacerbate the situation, not help get closer to a settlement.

“I think that is one of the factors that the court is going to seriously look at in determining whether to issue a stay or not,’’ said league VP Ray Anderson. “The chaos of starting and stopping free agency is a real risk.’’

Litigation, which also includes a hearing in Judge David Doty’s courtroom May 12 on the matter of damages stemming from his decision on revenue from the league’s TV contract, takes time, even though the Sept. 8 regular-season kickoff may seem distant now. Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice-president for business operations, said the league has not set a deadline for canceling games should there be no new collective bargaining agreement.

“We don't have a date by which the season is lost, or a date by which we have to move from 16 games to some other [number],” Grubman said at the APSE meeting. “Our intentions are to play a full season, and we will pull every lever that we can within the flexibility we have or can identify to make that happen.”

The key, according to Grubman, is being able to start the season immediately, despite the prospect of running the league at a deficit, when an agreement is in place. “We have to be able to figure out: When you turn the key, is the gas going to flow? Is everything going to work?”

Meanwhile, the league’s last fun piece of business, the draft, goes on as planned starting Thursday.


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