NFL players criticize league in lawsuit

BY Alex Marvez • March 28, 2011

NFL players are suffering "irreparable harm" because of the lack of offseason programs and free-agent signing period, according to a legal briefing filed Monday by plaintiffs attempted to lift the league's lockout.

The claim was made in a 23-page reply memorandum filed by attorneys representing quarterback Tom Brady and nine other players in an antitrust lawsuit against the league. As part of that case, the plaintiffs are asking that Minnesota Judge Susan Nelson provides a preliminary injunction lifting the lockout during an April 6 hearing in St. Paul.

In a filing with Nelson last week, the NFL claimed the decertification of the NFL Players Association was a sham perpetrated solely to subject the league to legal action. NFL attorneys also argue that the National Labor Relations Board should rule first upon a league complaint already filed about the NFLPA decertification.

The NFL already has said it would appeal if Nelson orders the lockout lifted. Such a ruling could ultimately force the NFL to begin conducting the free-agent signing period and offseason workouts. The lockout was instituted March 11 following the collective bargaining agreement's expiration and NFLPA decertification.

CBA negotiations between players and the NFL aren't expected to resume until after Nelson's ruling.

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 offseason is the time when players compete to try to find a team, make a roster, establish themselves as starting players, demonstrate they can overcome injuries or otherwise prove themselves," the memorandum states. "To do this, they need the opportunity to sign with the right team, begin offseason workouts, learn the team’s system and compete before training camp begins. Absent immediate injunctive relief, it will be impossible to turn back the clock or quantify in damages these lost opportunities."

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 CBA's expiration.

"The right of workers not to unionize is absolute and not akin to turning off a light switch," the memorandum reads. "By disclaiming their union, the players have given up the right to strike, collectively bargain, have union representation in grievances (and) benefits determinations, and to have union regulation of agents. The players sacrificed these labor law rights for one reason: to gain the ability to assert antitrust claims against anticompetitive restrictions imposed by (the NFL)."

The NFL contends the NFLPA didn't attempt to negotiate a new CBA in earnest and was intending to decertify throughout the bargaining process. The league also has touted the positives of its final offer to the NFLPA. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell even personally wrote an email to all players pitching highlights of the offer. NFLPA player representatives described Goodell's message as "deceptive" and "a joke."

"There are no surprises or arguments we did not expect (in the memorandum)," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday night in a statement released via Twitter. "The union's lawyers still fail to come to terms with the jurisdictional principles that bar an injunction in this case."

Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Osi Umenyiora, Mike Vrabel, Brian Robison, Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson, Ben Leber and college draft prospect Von Miller are the other players besides Brady to file suit against the NFL.