Court may not rule further on NFL’s stay

The three-judge panel that granted the NFL’s emergency request to reinstitute its player lockout last Friday was expected to announce a more long-term decision this week. But the clerk for the Eighth Circuit Court in St. Louis said Wednesday that a judgment wasn’t necessarily forthcoming and the injunction could remain in place at least until a June 3 hearing for the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit.

"I don’t have any indication whether there is going to be any further ruling on the motion for a stay," clerk Michael Gans told USA Today.

This makes the stakes in the upcoming Brady v. NFL hearing even higher. Each side will present 30-minute arguments to the appellate court about whether the lockout should be allowed to remain in place as the antitrust lawsuit unfolds. The court will then need at least a few weeks to render a decision.

The longer the lockout continues, the more an on-time start to the regular season is being threatened. Teams are currently barred from make personnel moves or conducting offseason workouts. Traditional minicamp and preseason practice schedules are being threatened, with some teams already forced to cancel sessions.

If the lockout is lifted, the NFL will have to craft rules governing such key issues as free-agent signings, the salary cap and wage scale for rookie draft choices.

The plaintiffs in Brady v. NFL scored a legal victory last month when successfully arguing in federal district court early that the lockout was doing "irreparable" harm to NFL players. U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson ordered that the lockout be lifted last week, which partially happened for a 24-hour period last Thursday and Friday as the first two rounds of the NFL draft unfolded.

The NFL never did allow veteran player signings, trades or releases. But players were allowed inside team headquarters for workouts, medical treatment and acquisition of playbooks — a key development for teams installing new offensive and defensive systems.

Those doors, though, were reshut almost quickly as they opened. The appellate court granted the NFL an emergency stay last Friday night that cleared the way for a quick re-establishment of the lockout.

This was an especially wounding move for NFL prospects who weren’t drafted. Lockout rules prohibit the signing of college free agents, which affects more than 450 potential signees vying to compete for NFL roster spots.

The NFL has argued that there isn’t irreparable harm being done to its players during the lockout and a free-agent signing period could still occur in late June or early July.

The Brady v. NFL lawsuit stemmed from the collapse of labor talks between the league and NFL Players Association. The latter decertified as a union shortly before the March 11 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement that had kept the NFL from any work stoppages since its 1993 implementation. The 10 players involved in the Brady v. NFL class-action lawsuit have accused the league of restraint of trade. Financial damages are being sought as well as the lifting of the lockout.

The Brady v. NFL lawsuit was essentially merged with another lawsuit (Eller v. NFL) filed on behalf of retired players and college NFL prospects alleging the same Sherman Act violations.

On another labor battle front, a federal district judge will announce damages next Thursday that are being awarded the NFLPA in a successful lawsuit filed against the NFL. David Doty ruled the league violated the CBA with its handling of television rights negotiations that would have provided NFL owners a lockout war chest in the event of a lost 2011 season at the expense of higher revenues meant to get split with the NFLPA. Some legal analysts believe damages could reach into nine figures.