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: April 25, 2011 6:43 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 6:56 pm

NFL has free agent quandary with lockout lifted

Posted by Will Brinson

As you may have heard, the NFL lockout has been lifted. Now, hell breaks loose in terms of free agency in the NFL. Well, it will soon anyway -- once the NFL imposes a set of rules (presumably, the ones from 2010) in which the offseason should operate. Don't expect that to happen until after the NFL has maxed out its appeal/stay options. 

The problem that presents itself for the owners is that they're in a bit of a catch-22 here, because for legal purposes, they don't want to find themselves colluding against the very players ... who sued them for collusion.

See, there are a pile of free agents -- more than 500 of them -- out there who would really like to start negotiating contracts with teams. And those teams, or at least the guys who run the football operations of the teams, would probably like to start signing players in order to fill holes on their roster. (Especially those teams with quarterback needs.)

However, the teams are also named defendants in the Brady v. NFL case, which means the folks who run the business side of things are unlikely to be extremely thrilled about any sort of cooperation with the players until said lawsuit is resolved.

If -- and again, this is predicated on no stay being granted -- the NFL institutes last year's rules, the season "begins" and for some reason none of those free agents are signed, it would lend great credence to the allegations that there's collusion taking place between the teams.

That won't necessarily happen, though it's absolutely a possibility.

Which means the NFL and its teams needs to tread carefully in order to avoid compromising themselves in the anti-trust lockout that will sit in the background regardless whether or not the "football season" begins.

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Category: NFL
Posted on: April 25, 2011 3:27 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 3:38 pm

Brady v. NFL stipulation of time agreed on, again

Posted by Will Brinson

The NFL-loving world waits on this Monday for news from Judge Susan Nelson as to whether or not the lockout will be lifted. While we wait on that ruling, though, CBSSports.com has learned that the two parties in Brady v. NFL have agreed to a second stipulation to extend the time in which the NFL (and therefore any subsequent defendants in the case) has to answer the plaintiffs' complaint.

This stipulation extends the time answer thru May 23, 2011.

However, that does not mean we won't get a Order from Judge Nelson this afternoon on the "lockout ruling" -- in fact, we still could.

What this does mean is that Judge Nelson is significantly more likely to issue a stay against the beginning of the NFL's season, which means it's unlikely that free agency, etc., will begin before the draft.

The timing of this sort of thing is never coincidental -- a few weeks ago, we also reported a stipulation that extended the time to answer thru April 27, 2011. As we said then, it was likely Judge Nelson would issue a ruling before that date, and it appears that's exactly what will happen now.

The May 23 date, in all likelihood, is designed to give at least a one-month stay in the time with which the NFL can appeal the ruling (or, should Judge Nelson rule in favor of the league, a time in which the players can appeal).

Having a finalized outcome relating to the "Lockout Ruling" is critical to the progress of this case, and therefore necessary before the defendants can proceed with their answer.

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Posted on: April 20, 2011 10:17 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 10:25 pm

Goodell: NFL 'planning on playing a full season'

Posted by Will Brinson

In these troubling times of NFL labor strife, good news and optimism are hard to find. So it's nice to hear Commissioner Roger Goodell provide a glimmer of hope.

Goodell, speaking with Giants' season-ticket holders on Tuesday, said that the NFL is "planning on playing a full season."

"We're planning on playing a full season and we're going to negotiate as hard as we can to get that done,” Goodell said, per Zach Berman of the New Jersey Star-Ledger. "You obviously have to be prepared if you’re unsuccessful. But I don't like to focus on that. I like to focus on being successful. There’s a lot at risk for everybody involved, most importantly for you as fans."

The pessimist in me thinks a little differently though: the only reason that a silver lining shines in the first place is because a grey cloud exists.

And that grey cloud is pretty obvious in this place, and it's something that Goodell referenced -- football might not exist, and the NFL is prepared for that.

That's not to dog the Commish, because he's got to be honest in this situation, and he does a good job of being optimistic about the situation without completely sugarcoating things for fans.

Plus, there's actually a pretty good chance -- despite the nightmare that's going down right now -- of football taking place, even if that doesn't mean there's any sort of guarantee.

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Posted on: April 19, 2011 9:46 am

Mediation resumes Tuesday with new faces

Posted by Will Brinson

Mediation in the Brady v. NFL matter resumes Tuesday, and there will be some changes in the people present for the two parties.

For starters, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith won't be present at the mediation, due to "a family medical emergency," per Mark Maske of the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports that the NFL's negotiating team will feature Commissioner Roger Goodell, lead counsel Jeff Pash, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and Packers CEO Mark Murphy.

Out of the owners present, only Richardson -- considered perhaps the lead negotiator for the owners -- is a holdover from last week. And it's interesting that the group heading into the second week of court-ordered mediation is in stark contrast to the group (Bob Kraft of the Pats, Clark Hunt of the Chiefs and Art Rooney of the Steelers) that was in Minnesota last week.

Jones, as you'll recall, allegedly had a bit of a confrontation with the players when the two sides mediated before George Cohen in Washington, D.C. That's not to say this will end poorly, because however the two sides act over the course of the mediation ends up reflecting on their position to Judge Susan Nelson.

And maybe it's a good thing that a new group of owners gets to see the proceedings and gauge the NFLPA's position at this point in time through an in-person experience.

Smith's absence is regrettable, certainly, but a family illness is one of the things that get you excused from almost any mediation. It probably also means that we're unlikely to see any settlement on Tuesday.

But that was likely to be the case anyway -- as our own Mike Freeman wrote recently, this second round of mediation might theoretically hold more water because it's court-ordered, but it's just about as likely to produce a happy ending to this labor dispute as the UFL is to produce football that will satisfy America come the fall.

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Posted on: April 13, 2011 8:48 pm

Goodell, some owners will attend mediation

Posted by Will Brinson

The current mediation that the folks in Brady v. NFL is quite a serious deal, and needs the serious attention of both parties. It's good news, then, that Commissioner Roger Goodell and a group of NFL owners will be attending the mediated sessions.

According to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, Goodell and "some of the owners" will attend the mediation, which begins on Thursday.

And the commish himself confirmed, via Twitter, his presence at the mediation opposite the players.

"I am also looking forward to resuming mediation talks tomorrow with players and their representatives," Goodell tweeted.

The real question is how many of the owners will actually be present -- it seems like a safe bet that the owners will send forth a full committee with the necessary negotiating power to strike a deal, should one make its way onto their table.

If just a few show up for the mediation, you can guarantee some grumbling from the players, especially given that there's likely to be a large number of them in attendance. (Though the point that neither Peyton Manning nor Tom Brady, both high-profile plaintiffs in the matter, are likely to be there is entirely viable.)

And the last thing these would-be settlement discussions need is one of the sides getting antsy.

"I think this is a fascinating opportunity to bring this to a successful conclusion, but the parties have to be willing," Robert Berliner, who runs a mediation firm in Chicago, said. "The mediator can only suggest, cajole and work hard to bring them together. He can't make it happen, and if the parties aren't willing to make a deal the best mediator in the world can't make it happen."

And that's the key -- even if there's a bound to be some emotions on the rise throughout the attempts to find a deal, if both sides are really dedicated to making a deal happen, it'll happen.

If not, well, things can still get uglier.

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Posted on: April 7, 2011 5:48 pm
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Posted on: April 7, 2011 1:59 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 2:02 pm

Players letter to NFL requesting mediation

Posted by Will Brinson

CBSSports.com has obtained a copy of the letter that the players in the Brady v. NFL antitrust case sent to Judge Susan Nelson requesting federally mandated mediation.

Dear Judge Nelson:

We are writing in response to the Court's suggestion that the parties engage the services of the federal court in Minnesota in an effort to mediate and settle the current litigation. We take your comments regarding protecting the parties position to heart. As class counsel on behalf of the Brady class, we think this is an excellent suggestion and are prepared to engage in such mediation without delay.

Our agreement is, of course, contingent on the NFL defendants'  agreement that they will not attempt to use this, our willingness to mediate, against the Brady class in some way, for example by arguing that such mediation efforts constitute "collective bargaining" or otherwise arise out of a "labor relationship."

Very Truly Yours,
Barbara P. Berens

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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