Posted on: April 26, 2011 10:15 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 10:58 am

Judge Nelson not ruling on stay issue immediately

Posted by Will Brinson

Following Judge Susan Nelson's ruling that lifted the lockout on Monday afternoon, the NFL announced that they would seek a stay from Nelson's court in order to prevent the necessity of a "league year" beginning immediately.

However, it appears as if Judge Nelson will not be ruling on the stay immediately; in fact, she's given the players until 9:00 AM CST on Wednesday morning to respond to the league's request for a stay.

This is somewhat surprising, as it seemed that Judge Nelson would quickly return a refusal to the league for their stay, and they would immediately appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Her decision, to be frank, seems to have caught everyone off guard, including the players. Though no one thinks Nelson isn't taking this matter seriously, the manner in which her ruling on Monday was worded gave a strong indication -- without actually tipping her hand, of course -- that she would not grant the NFL's stay. Which is why it seemed that such a ruling would be handled in a perfunctory manner on Tuesday.

Now it appears that the Court of Appeals will need until at least next week in order to get around to answering even the most expedited of appeals from the league.
Latest on Lockout

Which means that it's likely we get through the draft without any sort of trading and/or free agency movement. That's the stance the NFL is taking at least.

"We are going to proceed in an orderly way that is fair to the teams and players and complies with court orders," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "Players are being treated with courtesy and respect at club facilities. We do not believe it is appropriate for football activities to take place until there are further rulings from the court.

"Under last set of proposals made to NFLPA, teams wouldn't even be into offseason programs yet. We need a few days to sort this out, as NFLPA attorney Jim Quinn indicated [Monday night]."

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Posted on: April 25, 2011 8:14 pm
Edited on: April 28, 2011 12:07 pm

7 questions to ask now that lockout's lifted

Posted by Will Brinson

On Monday, Judge Susan Nelson lifted the NFL's lockout, in a hefty, 89-page ruling that ended simply with the words "the 'lockout' is enjoined."

But what to make of a situation that could end up being even more chaotic than the initial period following the lockout itself ?

How about we answer that question with the old, seven-question format? Good? Good.

1. So we're getting football in 2011????
Not so fast, my friend -- despite the fact that the lockout being lifted is huge and breaking news and all that, this what everyone expected. When Judge Nelson spoke during the April 6 hearing, all reports indicated that she favored the players in terms of how she viewed the legal positions in this case. And, clearly, that was the truth, because Nelson lifted the lockout and didn't directly grant a stay for the owners despite doing so.

One thing's clear from Judge Nelson's ruling though: she understands that the public just wants football . While she recognizes that the players are suffering "irreparable harm" because of the lockout, she also titled a chunk of opinion as "The Public Interest Does Not Favor The 'Lockout'." This is good to keep in mind when wondering whether or not anyone has the public in mind amid all this, because Judge Nelson clearly does.

And that's good news when hoping for football to happen in 2011.

2. Okay, but what happens next?
The NFL's already said it will request a "stay" of Judge Nelson's ruling. That means the league will ask her to hold off on her lockout ruling so that the defendants in this matter can file an appeal with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. If Judge Nelson grants that stay, we go back to the state of limbo we were in before Monday's ruling.

If Judge Nelson denies that stay, the NFL will request a stay from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Same deal applies here: if the Court of Appeals grants that stay, it's limbo time until the court rules as to whether or not Nelson correctly lifted the lockout.

If the Court of Appeals denies that stay (following Nelson's theoretical denial), the NFL would likely be forced to open its doors and impose some rules for the current players. Except for the fact that, per Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal , the Eighth Circuit could actually rule on an emergency stay by Friday. 

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3. There's still going to be a Draft on Thursday, though, right?

How nice that you still care! But, yes, there will still be an NFL Draft and, barring something really, really, really odd from happening, it'll still kick off on Thursday and teams will still make selections (though, as you'll see below, they probably won't be making some of the deals you've seen in the past).

There's too much at stake in terms of broadcast partners and timing and travel and whatnot to alter the Draft; plus, it was going on whether or not the lockout was lifted in the first place.

Perhaps now hopeful fans will simply be more interested.

4. So players can't go to the stadium and start working out yet?
Actually, they can, at least between Nelson's ruling and her decision Tuesday on the stay. Or, at least, they can try  to go work out. After all, the lockout no longer exists, and it would be a murky labor situation for teams to deny their non-unionized employees access to facilities provided by an employer for team activities.

In fact, reports have begun to surface that agents are telling their players to go to team facilities and work out so as to make sure they can't be denied any offseason workout bonuses that are included in their contracts. Our own Mike Freeman has reported he's heard some agents telling their players NOT to show up, so it could be a mixed bag.

Adding fuel to that fire is Steelers' player rep Ryan Clark, who said on television Monday night that he's "telling guys to go [to team facilities]" and "telling guys to get to work." Yes, things could get awkward when/if players show up and aren't allowed into the team building.

5. What about free agents -- can my team sign them?
Theoretically, it would be possible. But remember, the players in Brady v. NFL  aren't just suing the NFL, they're also suing the individual teams. Don't expect Marty Hurney to run out and ink Matt Hasselbeck to a deal just because the Panthers desperately need a quarterback.

His boss, Jerry Richardson, probably wouldn't be too thrilled with him breaking rank and signing a free agent. Besides, there are no rules for the current NFL season that hasn't started yet, so it's kind of impossible to even determine who is and who isn't a free agent until the NFL decides to impose those rules. (Although, if you want to see who who will most likely be free agents, my colleague Andy Benoit did an excellent job of compiling such a list right here .)

Which it won't do until it's exhausted all opportunities to receive a stay. Where this gets interesting, though, 

6. I really want the Eagles to land another first-rounder? Can they trade Kevin Kolb?
Same rules apply as with free agents: nothing until the NFL exhausts its options in seeking a stay of the injunction and imposes a set of rules.

The issue of trades might be a bit less murky than with free agency, because trades, theoretically, can benefit teams more so than they do the players (obviously a lot of teams would like a crack at the aforementioned Kolb BEFORE the draft). But, if the league decided to allow trades, they'd probably be conceding that a stay doesn't matter and would need to start signing free agents.

Since not signing the big pile of available free agents would amount -- or at least appear to amount -- to collusion, it's unlikely you'll see either one happen until the issue of a potential stay gets sorted out.

7. You keep saying a "set of rules" -- what rules will those be?
The common belief is that the NFL, if it cannot get a stay, will impose the 2010 rules on the new league year.

That means that there won't be a salary cap and it'll take six years to get to free agency. As referenced above, that dramatically changes the players who will be available to other teams, and you should reference Andy's post to see who will likely be available. But, we can't know what set of rules are actually applied until their applied.

Which means, as with much else, we're stuck waiting on the courts once again.

Which leaves us right back where we started, really. Remember back when we did "7 Questions fans should ask about the lockout " thing? (Seems like YEARS, doesn't it?) Well, I closed by saying that "leverage" was critical for both sides.  

And that's still the case. Leverage just happens to have shifted (heavily, I might add) in the direction of the players right now. Should the NFL receive a stay, though, that leverage tilts back in towards the league's direction, at least for the moment.

For now, we sit back and wait for the legal system to make rulings on the issues at hand. Once they do, things will be somewhat clearer, but thinking that the NFL labor issues are behind us is a little more naive than anyone should be, even in the face of the positive emotions coming from some corners following Judge Nelson's ruling.

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 4:12 pm

NFLPA to pay players with lockout fund on 4/15

Posted by Will Brinson

Times are tight for NFL players -- even though it's perceived that they make piles of money (and many of them do), many players live check-to-check. Which is why the NFLPA established a "lockout fund" with which to begin paying players.

And, according to Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network, the players will begin receiving those payments on April 15. LaCanfora cites an NFLPA source as well as an email that was sent to the players recently.

"We are e-mailing you to inform you that the NFLPA Board of Player Directors approved the payout from the Lockout Fund to begin on April 15, in six installments or until the lockout ends. In order to start receiving your payments, please fill out the attached direct deposit enrollment form and return it to us with a voided check from your checking account or bank letter verifying the account information. We will e-mail you at the address that you provide on the form when payments are sent to your bank account.

"Please note that any other future payments that you may receive from the NFLPA or NFL PLAYERS Inc (for example player marketing deals or royalty payments) will be deposited into this account and you will be notified via email of the deposit."

The maximum total payment made to a player -- over the course of the six installments -- would reportedly be $60,000, utilizing funds that were compiled during the 2009 and 2010 seasons via players' dues and rights' fees.

A player who was on a 53-man roster for the full length of those seasons would reportedly be eligible to receive the maximum sum of $60,000.

The payments to the players really establishes two things about the current state of NFL negotiations.

One, this lockout wasn't unexpected. But we already knew that -- both sides are doing a dance that they've been rehearsing for quite some time.

And two, DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA did a hell of a job planning ahead for this scenario. $60,000 is quite a step down for many players, but it's still money coming in, which is critical because it offsets money going out.

And that means the players will continue to have some leverage in being able to avoid work and, most importantly paychecks.

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 1:08 pm

Does retired players case offer legal loophole?

Posted by Will Brinson

As if having every single current NFL player suing the league wasn't awkward enough, a group of retired players have also filed a class-action complaint against the NFL and its 32 clubs, with the express purpose of pushing the Brady v. NFL bandwagon even further down the tracks.

But this lawsuit is actually worse for the NFL than it would seem based on the named plaintiffs -- Carl Eller, Priest Holmes, Obafemi Ayanbadejo and Ryan Collins -- listed on the lawsuit, a copy of which we've seen.

That's because the class involved in this class action is comprised of not just retired players but also "... (b) potential rookie professional football players who, as of March 11, 2011 to the date of final judgment in this action and the determination of any appeal therefrom, have not previously commenced negotiation with any NFL club concerning employment and have not been selected in any NFL College Draft."

Or, in non-fancy parlance: rookies.
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Of course, that may not seem to matter all that much, as you'd think that the rookies are already involved in the Brady v. NFL lawsuit. But not so fast, my friend. According to the attorney representing the players in this matter, Michael Hausfeld, this case could circumvent the NFL's claim that the decertification of the union is a "sham."

"The owners say the union has unlawfully decertified and the union should be ordered to reconstitute and forced to sit at the bargaining table," Hausfeld told Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports. "If you look at the last CBA, it represents the rookies that have been drafted and the rookies who have begun negotiating with teams."

It's a loophole, and there's absolutely no guarantee it'll work, but Hausfeld, as Wetzel notes, seems pretty convinced.

"The owners have shut down their potential employees through a concerted boycott," Hausfeld said. "[The suit is] going to avoid the main thrust of the owners’ defense and their argument that the matter should be settled by the [National Labor Relations Board] not in the courts."

The NFL has yet to comment on the "retired players lawsuit," but it stands to reason that they won't immediately decide to fold up camp and just cave to the NFLPA's desire to life the lockout.

Because, after all, the NFL's already pretty vested in their current position. It's way past highly unlikely they'll reverse course at this point.

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Posted on: March 28, 2011 8:21 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2011 10:33 pm

April 27th the deadline for lockout ruling?

Posted by Will Brinson

On Monday, Tom Brady, et al, (i.e. all the players suing the NFL) filed a reply with the Minnesota district court related to their Motion for Preliminary Injunction against the NFL.

A hearing will take place on April 6, but the question everyone wants to know is, "When will the court make a ruling?" (You may not know it, but you want the answer to this -- it could decide the fate of NFL football in 2011.)

Well, it warrants mentioning then that the Plaintiffs (the players) and the Defendants (the NFL and its clubs) have agreed to an extension of time with which the Defendants can answer the Plaintiffs' complaint. (Or, to put it more simply: the NFL gets 30 days to respond to the players' lawsuit; both sides have agreed to add more time to that.)

CBSSports.com has obtained an Order on Stipulation for Extension of Time whereby Jeanne J. Graham, the United States Magistrate Judge for Minnesota, gives the NFL until April 27 to respond to the players' complaint.
NFL Labor

Why does this matter? Well, the NFL will have its legal response ready before then; but it stands to reason that if both sides -- and the court -- have agreed to extend the time period with which the NFL can answer until April 27, that we'll have a ruling on the Injunction by then.

That's because if the Plaintiffs' motion is granted, the lockout will be declared illegal. The NFL will then likely appeal the ruling. (Same for the players, in the event that the lockout is declared legal.)

But, most importantly, the ruling that stems from the hearing on April 6 will dramatically affect the case and it's timeline moving forward -- though there's no guarantee that we know anything by April 27 (which just so happens to be right before the draft), there's a very good chance that we do.

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Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:31 pm

Report: De Smith to cut salary to $0

Posted by Will Brinson

Roger Goodell and Jeff Pash recently announced that they'd be cutting their respective salaries to $1 until a new CBA is reached. Not to be outdone, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith has undercut them and will reportedly set his salary at $0.

That's according to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, who cites sources that indicate Smith's moving to his salary to that of a volunteer.

The news isn't too shocking, of course, because Smith previously stated he'd take a big salary cut if there'd been a deal before the Super Bowl. (At the time, he offered "68 cents.") Additionally, a salary "cut" by either side is wholly symbolic. While they won't make the same money until there are games played, they've still got cash in the bank and they'll still likely have bonus money waiting once the NFL resumes play.

It's also worth noting that Goodell and Pash also previously announced their salary cuts in the event of a work stoppage.

So, yeah, it's a public relations maneuver by both sides, with the point being to show everyone that they care so much about the negotiations that they're willing to make personal sacrifices.

All of which is to say that salary cuts for the people in charge of two clearly embattled sides do nothing to actually advance any discussion about a new deal designed to get football to the folks with salaries who really matter: the fans.

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Posted on: March 15, 2011 11:32 pm

Did Jerry Jones' speech to NFLPA spur a lockout?

Posted by Will Brinson

It's pretty obvious, regardless of what the two sides may say, that there's no love lost between the owners and the players in this labor dispute.

Still, a story that Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated relayed from the Wednesday mediation session, paints quite the ugly picture of Jerry Jones' behavior during what was supposed to be a time of sincere negotiating.

To set the scene: mediator George Cohen invited each owner, sitting across the table from the union's executive committee, to speak. Eventually, things came around to Jones.

"I don't think we've got your attention," Jones said to the players, per Trotter, who says several of them recounted the incident. "You clearly don't understand what we're saying, and we're not hearing what you're saying. So I guess we're going to have to show you to get your attention."

Jones then proceeded to "tap his fists together for emphasis," stand up and walk out of the room (Jerry Richardson started to leave with him, but Robert Kraft apparently kept the Panthers owner from bolting).

This went over -- as you might expect -- really, really well.

"I think everybody in the room thought it was overly dramatic, almost hilarious," one player told Trotter. "It was like a Jerry Maguire moment. You know, 'I'm leaving. Who's coming with me?' I know it didn't scare any of us."

And it subsequently led to a standoff-ish 48-hour period where it seemed like there wasn't any reason to be optimistic towards the labor talks (Thursday night was the worst of things, the actual lockout itself notwithstanding).

That non-negotiating attitude from each side, of course, led to a lawsuit and a lockout and the pretty depressing possibility that their might not be football in 2011.

Does the Jones' story shift all the blame to the owners? No. But it's pretty clear that they -- just like the players -- were prepared for this scenario and willing to go through with it if they didn't get what they want out of mediation.

That's especially problematic because it means that there won't be a solution to America's professional football issue until both sides hash out their personal problems.

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Posted on: March 15, 2011 12:22 am

Report: Owners have cash to last through season

Posted by Will Brinson

The ruling where Judge David Doty shut down the NFL owners' ability to use more than $4 billion in television contracts during any work stoppage quickly rid the world of any notion that the billionaires could last two years without football.

I mean, they could, but not without hemorrhaging cash. However, a report Monday in the Wall St. Journal indicates that the gentlemen who run the 32 NFL franchises could in fact last one full season without football.

The WSJ report notes that the league would only need that money "if the labor strife drags on into the 2012 season" because "owners have already set aside enough money to cover them in case the 2011 season is cancelled."

That the NFL has a contingency plan for not being able to use the $4 billion isn't shocking, because Greg Aiello mentioned as much almost immediately following Doty's ruling. Also, the gentlemen in question are billionaire; they didn't gain that status without knowing a) to always have a backup plan and b) how to save money.

And they can almost certainly weather the financial storm of an NFL-less world than most of the players in the league. But that doesn't mean that not making a pile of money during the 2011 season is something that the owners want to see happen.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com