The labor battle between the NFL and the players doesn’t appear any closer to a resolution following a federal court hearing Wednesday.
Judge Susan Nelson said she needs time to evaluate and rule on the NFL players’ request for a preliminary injunction to halt the NFL-imposed lockout. Nelson told both sides in court that she would work as quickly as possible, but conceded it could take a few weeks.
"But this is a good time for both sides to come back to the federal court (negotiating) table," she said.
Essentially, Nelson is urging both sides to resume dialogue while she works to rule on the request for the preliminary injunction. However, the sides disagreed on whether Nelson was recommending mediation to settle the lawsuit or to resume collective bargaining — a significant difference, despite its hair-splitting appearance on the surface.
"Their preferred approach has always been litigation," David Boies, attorney for the NFL, said of the players. "Our preferred approach has always been mediation and negotiation. I don’t think it’s surprising that we walk out of this courthouse and neither one of us has changed our basic approach.
"Now, whether or not we can work something out over the next couple of weeks … maybe we can."
James Quinn, the players’ lead attorney, made it clear how his side interpreted Nelson’s recommendation.
"The judge said that you should mediate the settlement of this lawsuit," Quinn said. "They can take whatever position they want to take. The only reason they want to go back to collective bargaining is so they can lock us out. … We heard what the judge said, and she said it forcefully, so we’re listening carefully."
Although the names of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are on the lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the lockout, none of the star quarterbacks was in attendance, nor was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"Many of (the players) were here," Quinn said. "I guess some of them had other things that they had to do or be in different places. We had a dozen or so players here and a lot more wanted to come."
Among the players on hand Wednesday were veterans Vincent Jackson, Mike Vrabel, Ben Leber, Brian Robison, Charlie Batch and Tony Richardson; Von Miller, a draft-eligible rookie, and Hall of Famer Carl Eller also were in attendance.
The day’s proceedings centered on each side arguing its case and responding to questions from Judge Nelson. Boies spent roughly three hours at the podium, often engaging directly with Nelson as she sought to clarify the NFL’s stance on the issues, while Quinn and Michael Hausfeld testified for about an hour on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The players’ argument essentially boiled down to asserting that the owners violated antitrust laws by imposing a lockout after the players had decertified their union, while the league argued that the decertification was essentially a sham and because the lockout arose from a labor dispute, the case should be heard by the National Labor Relations Board.
"It’s not a labor dispute because it’s an antitrust case. We filed an antitrust case against a boycott," Quinn said. "We made those arguments in court and I think the judge was listening carefully."
Boies ended the day by striking a somewhat hopeful tone, after acknowledging the obvious frustrations felt by all sides, the fans included.
"I think fans should be disappointed that this is still in the courts and not back in federal mediation, because I think federal mediation is the fastest, best way to get us to a football season, and I think that’s what fans want," Boies said. "On the other hand, there’s always going to be some skirmishing, and we’ve got a lot of time still, so hopefully reason will prevail.
FOXSports.com Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez contributed to this report.