Today, Judge Susan Nelson issued an order to end the NFL owners lockout of the players. In an 89 page brief, Judge Nelson deemed the lockout illegal and refused to issue a “stay” which would allow the owners to continue the lockout pending appeal. Something the owners have said they will do.
The next step is the owners and league appealing the decision both in full and regarding the stay. It’s not known how fast the courts will rule on that appeal. What is also not known is when the players will actually return to work. Technically, they can return to the team facilities starting tomorrow. The owners will not likely try and stop them if they choose to do so because they would be in violation of the court order.
Still, the next question would be when will free agency start? The owners will need to begin implementing league wide rules that will apply to unsigned players, undrafted free agents, off-season activities, drug testing, conduct policies, and so on. Whatever they decide to implement, will be met with an immediate challenge by the players council, citing once again that the league is operating as a single entity instead of 32 separate businesses. In other words, they will argue that any rules that are implemented will be in violation of U.S. anti-trust laws.
While on the surface this is a victory for the players and in some regard the fans as well, I firmly believe that this decision will not further the two parties towards a new CBA but instead will put the players in a position under Jeffrey Kessler to change the landscape of the NFL.
Of course all of this will mean nothing if in another month the appeals court rules in favor of the owners and the lockout is back in place.
For the time being however, the first visual evidence of the lockout ending may come this weekend when undrafted free agents begin to sign on Sunday.