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NFL says teams can resume operations Friday morning

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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Finally, the NFL is getting back to football.

Three days after a federal judge declared the lockout illegal, and nearly seven weeks after it began, the NFL said players may talk with coaches, work out at team headquarters and look at their playbooks.

The NFL said all of that can begin Friday, when it also is expected to release detailed guidelines for free agency, trades and other roster moves in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement.

"That's great news," said linebacker Joe Mays, one of 10 Denver Broncos players who showed up at the team's headquarters Thursday. "It's something we've been trying to do, get back to work."

Several general managers and player agents told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora that they are preparing for Monday to be the day transactions begin.

The guidelines were released a few hours before the NFL draft, in which teams were permitted to swap only picks, not players.

La Canfora spoke with Washington Redskins center Casey Rabach, one of several players who reported Thursday morning to Redskin Park. Rabach briefly spoke with general manager Bruce Allen, but he wasn't allowed to enter to work out.

"I stopped by to talk with Bruce," Rabach said via text message. "Everyone was good there. He told me they are waiting to hear on the stay filed with the 8th District Court."

When asked if he went to the facility hoping to work out, Rabach responded: "I went there knowing it wasn't going to happen. It would have been nice."

In Minnesota, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway showed up at Winter Park but was "cordially" informed that he wouldn't be allowed to work out at the facility, The Star Tribune reported.

"I went down to the weight room before I got changed, and I didn't know what was going to happen," Greenway said. "The strength coaches were there, just getting there, and they said that they didn't know what we could do. I was called by (vice president of football operations) Rob Brzezinski. He said, 'You can hang out as long as you want, and we want you to be around, but we don't know what rules to go under so there's no workouts available today.'"

It was a welcome step forward. New players in particular will benefit from the new guidelines.

"These rookies, there's a lot going on for them," New York Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "So any info they can get, any things they can study, is good. If the lockout happens again, they'll have plenty to study from their teams."

That's certainly what the NFL wants.

The league has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout as soon as possible. The court is considered a friendlier venue for businesses than the federal courts in Minnesota.

The NFL wants an immediate stay of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's decision Monday to lift the 45-day lockout so it can argue that her ruling should be overturned altogether. 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 Monday morning.

Michael Gans, the appeals court clerk, said a three-judge panel for the appeal had not been set.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he feared the fight could last for a while.

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"I think the litigation, unfortunately, could go on for some period of time," he told the NFL Network. He said he was looking forward to the next round of court-ordered talks on May 16.

"I think that it's important to get back to that," he said. "That's the type of thing that should happen -- real bargaining across the table."

Goodell, who penned an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal this week suggesting Nelson's ruling could "endanger" the league if it is upheld on appeal, conceded the legal fight was weighing on him.

"It's frustrating," he said. "We have so much potential. Our game is in such a great place."

At least now, four days after Nelson lifted the lockout, there are guidelines to follow.

Mandatory minicamps and voluntary offseason practices can begin under rules of the collective bargaining agreement that expired March 11. 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 Detroit Lions already have scheduled organized team activities for Wednesday, and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said his team is ready to get to work.

"I consider us one of the organizations that will legitimately do the right thing with all this," Fujita said. "Guys who choose to report right away just have to be flexible (and) realize that if a stay is granted from the appellate court, then we're locked out again."

The league also will arrange for substance-abuse and steroid programs to resume, and players can participate in team-sponsored community and charity functions.

Agent Angelo Wright said he has told players under contract not to worry about visiting headquarters this weekend out of fairness to the teams so they can focus on the draft. He said they should plan to show up Monday and said he'd start calling team executives about unsigned players as soon as Sunday night.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus said he'd like for signings and trades to take place during the draft, which runs through Saturday.

"I've been calling teams, and I've been told they've been advised by the NFL to hold off on signings or trades until further notice," Rosenhaus said.

Attorneys for the players said the decision to lift the lockout "is in full, immediate force."

"It is our view that the NFL and the clubs will be in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order," lawyers James Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler wrote in a memo to players.

Quinn, in a tersely worded letter to NFL attorney Gregg Levy, said the players were tired of waiting and accused the league of "granting itself a temporary stay" of Nelson's order when doors didn't open right away for football activities.

"I guess if you're a billionaire, you can tell a judge no," said Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who was at a charity event in Ann Arbor, Mich.

On a day when some sort of normalcy was restored with the first round of the NFL draft, attorneys were keeping busy behind the scenes.

Still pending is a fight over $4 billion in broadcast revenue. U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled in March that the owners failed to maximize revenue for both sides when it renegotiated TV and online deals.

Players, who allege the owners set aside that money as a "war chest" to keep them afloat during the lockout, asked Thursday for millions in damages beyond the $6.9 million recommended by a special master and said the money could become key as the legal fight drags on.

Doty has scheduled a hearing for May 12.

In its 23-page motion, the league reiterated three arguments it unsuccessfully made to Nelson: that she had no jurisdiction while a bad-faith negotiation charge against the players is pending with the National Labor Relations Board; that federal law prevents the court from overseeing cases stemming from labor disputes; and that it shouldn't be subject to antitrust claims with the CBA barely expired.

Now the fight will be taken up by the 8th Circuit. The league even proposed a timeline: a written opening argument due May 10, the same due for the players May 24, the NFL's reply due May 31 and a hearing after that "as soon as possible."

That would stretch the legal fight well into June, a month before training camps and only weeks before the first scheduled preseason game on Aug. 8.

Tony Richardson, a 17-year veteran and a free agent, said there was still uncertainty.

"It's still a situation where guys cannot be sure what's next, but I think we're headed in the right direction," he said.

Added Mays: "Everybody's tired of sitting around, laying around. We've had enough of that. Now, we're trying to get back to business."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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