MINNEAPOLIS – Seven weeks into the NFL lockout, players have an early triumph over the owners in court.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered an immediate end to the lockout Monday, siding with the players in their bitter fight with the owners over how to divide the $9 billion in annual revenue the business generates.
The fate of the 2011 season remained in limbo: The NFL responded by filing a notice of appeal questioning whether Nelson exceeded her jurisdiction, seeking relief from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Hours later, the league filed a motion for an expedited stay, meaning it wants Nelson to freeze her ruling to let the appeals process play out.
What will happen in the next few days is murky.
Players may very well show up at team facilities today; whether they’ll be allowed access is unclear. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told ESPN that the league doesn’t intend to start until it has “an opportunity to seek a stay.”
DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFLPA, said on ESPN2 that the organization planned to give players “guidance” about what to do and said players were eager to resume court-ordered mediation to resolve the pending litigation.
“My hope is really is that there’s somebody on the other side who loves football as much as our players and fans do,” he said.
Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who will be a free agent, wasn’t sure what would happen today.
“It sounds like there’s a possibility that there might be a door open for us, no pun intended, to go in,” he said. “But I really think that it’s in the best interest of the players, because this is such a sensitive time, to stay back and let the dust settle.”
In a room packed with lawyers, players and league officials, Nelson politely but persistently questioned NFL lawyer David Boies about his argument that she shouldn’t have jurisdiction over a labor dispute while an unfair negotiation charge against the players is pending with the National Labor Relations Board.
In her ruling, Nelson rejected that contention. She recognized the NFL Players Association’s decision to “de-unionize” as legitimate because it has “serious consequences” for the players.
Nelson not only declared that players are likely to suffer harm by the lockout, a legal requirement for granting the injunction, she wrote that they’re feeling it already.
She cited their short careers, arguing that monetary damages wouldn’t be enough relief.
What Nelson didn’t do, however, was tackle the issue of the antitrust lawsuit filed last month when the union broke up. That, she wrote, “must wait another day.”
If the injunction is upheld, the NFL must resume business in some fashion.
It could invoke the 2010 rules for free agency, meaning players would need six seasons of service before becoming unrestricted free agents when their contracts expire. There also was no salary cap in 2010, meaning teams could spend as much — or as little — as they wanted.
And the NFL would need to determine whether offseason workouts can be held while the appeal is pending.
Owners imposed the lockout after talks broke down March 11 and the players disbanded their union.
With appeals expected, the fight seems likely to drag on through the spring and, possibly, into the summer. The closer it gets to August, when training camps open and the exhibition schedule gets in full swing, the more likely it becomes that regular season games could be lost.
“This particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation,” Nelson wrote.
JOE PERRY DIES
Hall of Fame fullback Joe Perry, the first player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and nicknamed “The Jet” for his sensational speed, died Monday. He was 84.
The San Francisco 49ers announced that Perry, a World War II veteran, had died in Arizona of complications from dementia.
Perry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969 following a 16-year NFL career, 14 years with the 49ers and two years with the Baltimore Colts.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Perry remains San Francisco’s all-time leader in yards rushing (7,344) and touchdowns rushing (50). He led the 49ers, who retired his No. 34 jersey in 1971, in rushing eight times, including consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 1953-1954.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Joe Perry’s passing earlier today,” 49ers owner John York said.
He finished with 9,723 yards rushing, the NFL record until Jim Brown broke it.
Perry was part of “The Million Dollar Backfield,” the only full-house backfield with all if its members in the Hall of Fame: quarterback Y.A. Tittle and halfbacks Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson.