Less than 12 hours after the league reopened its doors to players, an appellate court in St. Louis granted the NFL’s request for an emergency stay Friday. Then the league announced late Friday that the lockout is back in effect.
"The NFL clubs were notified tonight that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay of the injunction entered by Judge (Susan) Nelson," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement. "As a result, the clubs have been told that the prior lockout rules are reinstated effective immediately."
Here is a question-and-answer primer about the latest twist in the league’s legal battle with its players:
Q: Why did the lockout resume?
A: After U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson ruled twice this week that the lockout must end as part of the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit, the league filed two appeals with the Eighth Circuit Court in St. Louis. The first appeal requested an emergency stay that would go into effect immediately. The second asks for a stay that would remain in place while the circuit court reviews the NFL’s appeal of the lockout lift. That appeals process could take as long as six weeks before a court decision is rendered.
In an order issued Friday night while the second day of the NFL draft was unfolding, two of three appellate judges approved the emergency measure.
"The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the motion for a stay pending appeal," the order reads.
The dissenting judge (Kermit Bye) claimed the NFL "has not persuaded me this is the type of emergency situation which justifies the grant of a temporary stay." Bye also wrote that the NFL was not suffering "irreparable harm" by lifting the lockout, which he believes is a requisite of an emergency stay.
Q: How does this affect veteran players?
A: An NFL spokesman said the previous lockout rules are back in effect.
Players are not to be allowed inside team headquarters for such work-related reasons as workouts, film study and rehabilitation. Because the NFL had only partially lifted the lockout even before the circuit court’s decision, personnel moves such as trades, releases and free-agent signings are still not allowed by the league. There also are no set guidelines related to those issues if the lockout is lifted, such as how many accrued seasons are required for a player to become an unrestricted free agent or whether a salary cap will be reinstituted.
Players who reported to their teams Friday before the appellate court’s ruling were able to meet with coaches and receive playbooks. The latter was key for franchises that have changed head coaches and/or systems under new coordinators.
On his reaction to the labor situation and if he’s disappointed, Bills coach Chan Gailey said: "What I have learned in this whole process is don’t think anything is in concrete. It can change, and probably will. Wait until tomorrow, who knows? I don’t know. I don’t know what the word is. You’d just like for things to get resolved so we can get on some kind of schedule. But, hey, that’s our life today. That’s where we are. You deal with it and go on."
Q: What about college players in the draft?
A: Unlike first-round picks, those chosen in Rounds 2 through 7 are now prohibited from having football-related contact with coaches and team officials. Those picks can visit their new teams solely for media and marketing purposes through the end of the draft Saturday afternoon.
College free agents now find themselves in limbo once again. It’s believed teams will not be able to sign such players once the draft is completed or reach preliminary contractual agreement, a common tactic among prospects with late-round grades.
Q: Why did the NFL partially lift the lockout to begin with if there was a chance an emergency stay would be granted?
A: The NFL risked being held in contempt and/or accused of collusion if the lockout continued much longer after Nelson had issued her order. NFL Players Association attorneys had even sent a letter to player agents earlier this week claiming they could begin free-agent negotiations for their clients even though team officials were prohibited from striking any deals.
Q: What is the next major legal step?
A: The decision on whether a longer stay will be granted could come as early as Monday after the court reviews arguments submitted by attorneys representing both sides in Brady v. NFL.
Q: What will be the impact of that decision?
A: The lockout’s resumption would be bad news for NFL players eager to return to work and/or awaiting paydays from new free-agent contracts or roster bonuses related to the start of the league’s calendar year. From an NFL standpoint, lifting the lockout would eliminate a leverage point in this labor battle because players would start getting paid. The league also would be back on track for an on-time start to the 2011 season even without a collective bargaining agreement in place.
Q: What about collateral damage from Friday’s ruling?
A: Frustration is setting in for members of both sides. Several team officials have expressed frustration to FOXSports.com about a lack of communication from the league office on how to proceed through what is a very fluid situation. They are especially peeved at the chaos caused during the draft, when a club is usually focused exclusively upon selecting college players.
"You just react," Minnesota vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman told Vikings media. "There is nothing you can do about it. You have no control over it. Right now, we can draft players. That’s what we’re focused on doing. That’s all you can do."
As for the players, the emergency stay has reignited the anger that players have felt toward the NFL throughout the seven-week lockout. An especially surreal scene during Friday night’s draft: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell greeting Denver’s freshly minted second-round pick Rahim Moore on the Radio City Music Hall stage just moments after the court’s lockout decision was announced.
"1st it’s on then it’s off now it’s on again," Houston Texans guard Wade Smith posted on his verified Twitter account. "This lockout is getting comical, and not in a good way. Antagonism only breeds contempt."