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NFL Lockout Lifted, NFL Appeals

Roger Goodell in the midst of all the hoopla (NFL Video)

On Monday, U.S. Federal Judge Susan Nelson sided with the NFLPA, and granted an injunction to lift the owners’ lockout. Nelson did not stay her decision pending appeals, which could force business as usual to commence immediately. The NFL will request a stay from Nelson, and has appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The stay request is based on the notion that should the appeal be successful, the lockout would return at that time.

The NFLPA argued that the NFL was causing irreparable harm with their lockout, and the NFL argued that the decertification was a sham. While the NFLPA sure seems to be moving in lockstep, the decertification certainly looks like a sham, but at the same time, a lockout can derail careers and deprive Americans of their favorite pastime.

The plaintiffs “have made a strong showing that allowing the League to continue their ‘lockout’ is presently inflicting, and will continue to inflict, irreparable harm upon them, particularly when weighed against the lack of any real injury that would be imposed on the NFL by issuing the preliminary injunction,” Nelson wrote.

What does this mean for the Patriots and the 2011 season?

The continuing legal battles do possess the potential to disrupt the 2011 season, but the decision not to grant a stay, at least not yet, also give hope for a season to take place.

Bill Belichick, playoffs aside, has been known to be somewhat of good coach. The training camps working with the team are pretty much what allows the Patriots to work so well together most of the time. Any sort of delay will even the playing field.

Possible Outcomes:

Season Cancelled

With the courts seemingly deciding for the players before the case even goes to court, this option looks pretty unlikely. Everyone has expressed an interest to have football. The financial impacts of cancelling an entire season are quite a lot, after all.

“The public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concessions sales,” Nelson wrote. “And, of course, the public interest represented by the fans of professional football — who have a strong investment in the 2011 season — is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout. In short, this particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation.”

Replacement Players

If the lockout fight persists, might we see replacement players again? Probably not. They’re something, but they’re not as entertaining as the real guys. Plus, scab labor won’t be looked upon in a good light with the union (which the players would reform with a new CBA). That would upset the players and further protract the negotiations, and potentially upset football beyond this upcoming season.

Shortened Season

Right now, this is arguably the most likely option. Court battles aren’t exactly known for fast movement. First, you have the suits. Then, you have the appeals. And after all of that, you have to figure out how things will work in the NFL. With the CBA gone, how will free agency work? How about salary caps? Retirement benefits? Training camps? Trades? Franchise tags? And it’s not like negotiations have been promising; they’ve been going so much slower than even the legal battles. That might cut into the season, but eventually, no pay stubs and the lack of playing the game they love would cause players to crack; they already have their own splinter group in the legal proceedings.

Business as Usual

The other option is for the season to start on time, with some from of abridged training camp. While that might provide for a slow Week 1, it won’t take the players long to get their mojo back. Especially if there’s some preseason games in which to work out the kinks, you wouldn’t be able to tell there was a lockout come September. Plus, there is the contingency plan to push back the season a week if needed.

But the thing with this is that should it indeed be business as usual, that would essentially mean the players would win. They already have the law on their side as it stands, and what would essentially be a court-ordered, on-time start would go against what the NFL is trying to do with its lockout. The owners don’t like losing, probably a consequence of their billions of dollars. They’ll fight tooth and nail to get what they want, and if they can’t get it all, they’ll at least try to delay it for as long as possible as a consolation prize.

So What Now?

There are antitrust suits to keep in mind, but first and foremost are the suits that determine whether or not there will be football. What will the appeals court say? What will Judge Nelson do regarding the stay? If the stay is granted, then there is no motive to get a CBA in place, since the suit starts all over again. If a stay is not granted, then it would certainly go a long way towards football taking place.

But for now, let’s sit back and enjoy the draft, and see if teams rebuild enough to want to keep their biggest stars locked out, or not.

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