A federal judge in Minnesota granted players an injunction Monday to lift the NFL lockout, and NFL owners have already appealed the decision.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ruled only on the injunction, not the entire case of Brady v. NFL. If Nelson or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis doesn’t grant the owners a stay, the 2011 season could start in theory.
"We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes," the NFL said in a statement. "We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal."
Late Monday, it was announced that the NFL appealed the decision to the Eighth Circuit.
If there is no stay of Nelson’s decision, free agency and other offseason business could begin. The rules under which free agency would be conducted aren’t known.
"This is a good ruling, for sure, but I never want to celebrate until it’s actually over," NFLPA Players Association executive George Atallah said on Twitter.
The owners locked out the players last month after the NFLPA decertified as a union after more than two weeks of federal mediation did not produce an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL is arguing that the decertification of the NFLPA was a sham and that the National Labor Relations Board should first rule on a league complaint filed about the decertification before the federal courts decide on the players’ lawsuit.
Nelson’s injunction came as a result of an antitrust lawsuit filed last month by Tom Brady and nine other players.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Goodell said Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s ruling in favor of the players in the current labor dispute may "endanger one of the most popular and successful sports leagues in history."
"Under the union lawyers’ plan, reflected in the complaint that they filed in federal court, the NFL would be forced to operate in a dramatically different way," he wrote. "To be sure, their approach would benefit some star players and their agents (and, of course, the lawyers themselves). But virtually everyone else — including the vast majority of players as well as the fans — would suffer."
According to the Associated Press, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said on ESPN: ”If we’re in a world where players are actually suing so they can play football … that tells me we’ve lost our way."
The plaintiff attorneys for Brady v. NFL claim that players are being adversely affected by the lockout long before games are being affected. They also accuse the NFL of price-fixing salaries, conspiring to limit free-agent movement and trying to force players to "agree to a new anticompetitive series of restraints which will, among other things, drastically reduce player compensation levels below those that existed in the past and would exist in a competitive market."
The plaintiffs also defended the players’ right to decertify as a union. Such a move was approved twice by NFLPA player representatives for all 32 teams in voting done in the fall and just before the collective bargaining agreement’s expiration.
The NFL contends the NFLPA didn’t attempt to negotiate a new CBA in earnest and was intending to decertify throughout the bargaining process.
Both sides met last week in mediation sessions, but little if any progress was made.
The main issues separating NFL owners and players are how to divide the $9 billion in revenue the league generates, the NFL’s push to expand the regular season to 18 games and benefits for retired players.
FOXSports.com Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez and NewsCore contributed to this report.