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BACK TO WORK NOT BACK TO NORMAL
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Apr 29 2011 @ 11:56 am In NFL,NFL Draft | 2 Comments
The NFL is once again open for business… well… sort of… to a limited degree… Let’s try to explain. Coincidentally, this announcement comes on the heels of the least-hyped NFL Draft since ESPN began covering it gavel-to-gavel. Only the truly pure Draft fans showed up to boo the Commissioner as he stepped to the podium and even then Mr. Goddell didn’t give boo birds the satisfaction because he agreed with them (fans were chanting “we want football”) that indeed he too “wanted football.” Commissioner Goddell approached the podium to announce the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, smiling, confident and responsive as he deflected the energy of angry fans by summarily agreeing with them. “I know,” he said. “Me too,” was the response to the fans, knowing that indeed some kind of resolution had been reached.
The NFL cleared the way for some of its basic football operations to begin at 8 a.m. ET Friday, five days after a federal judge declared the lockout illegal and nearly seven weeks after it began. As of 8 AM Friday morning (4/29/2011) the NFL really is allowed to perform a limited number of organized activities. The official football calendar year has not begun so personnel moves (outside of the Draft) of any kind are still verboten for the time being.
For the first time all offseason, players have been cleared to talk with coaches, work out at team headquarters and get playbooks. All were turned away from team facilities in the four days after U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision to lift the owner-imposed lockout.
The owners and players have been embroiled in a bitter battle over how the NFL’s $9 billion pie is sliced, a fight that has been slogging through the courts, embroiled in media mash-ups and torn apart by players, fans and anyone whose livelihood or entertainment dollars are tied to the NFL. That fight is far from over despite the halting steps back toward active football activities (AFA as opposed to OTA or VTC). The league has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout as soon as possible, hoping for a friendlier venue than the federal courts in Minnesota – thus further retarding the process of actually getting back to work. That’s right, this could all be a teaser, an early thaw in what may still prove an Ice Age stalemate between very stubborn and very wealthy parties.
 The NFL also was expected to release detailed guidelines for free agency, trades and other roster moves later Friday in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement. That CBA expired March 11, the same day the players’ union was disbanded to clear the way for a court fight. As none of this has been resolved, the path to the Draft may still lead us back into oblivion and right back around to the same quagmire in which we began. None of these guidelines have been made public and it is very likely they will be delayed until further legal action is taken. Consider this posturing to create the illusion of progress rather than actual progress – something with which the NFL and court system are both intimately familiar.
Mandatory minicamps and voluntary offseason practices can begin under rules of the old CBA. Team-supervised workouts will count toward bonuses in player contracts, and players also can work out on their own at team facilities if they have health insurance in place. The league also will arrange for substance abuse and drug programs to start back up, and players can participate in team-sponsored community and charity functions.
The league wants the appellate court to put Nelson’s decision on hold so it can argue that it should be overturned altogether (which would throw us back into lockout). The players were told to respond to the league’s motion for a stay by midday Friday, and the NFL’s reply to that is due on Monday morning.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he feared the fight could last for a while. He said he was looking forward to the next round of court-ordered talks on May 16.
At least for now, football activities can take place…until they can’t.
Stay tuned because this could still get ugly.
7/8/2011 – UPDATE: The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a judge’s order lifting the NFL lockout, handing the league a victory as players and owners returned to negotiations.
The ruling was issued shortly after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith opened a second straight day of labor talks at a law firm in Manhattan.
The court vacated an April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that the lockout should be lifted because players were suffering irreparable harm. The appeals court had already put that order on hold and said in its ruling that Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.
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