The NFL filed a "motion to dismiss" the Brady et al v. National Football League et al case with the district court in Minnesota on Monday, setting up a play to shut down the antitrust suit and take away the players' biggest piece of leverage in the ongoing labor fight.
The filing was largely a procedural matter, coming on the same day the league's response to the players' amended complaint was due. The NFL will still be responsible for filing an answer, but not until after the court rules on its motion.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson has scheduled a hearing on the motion for Sept. 12, which is four days after the scheduled start of the NFL regular season, a factor that could put more pressure on the owners and players to get a deal done outside of the courtroom.
Both sides hope that hearing never has to happen. The NFL and its players held settlement discussions in suburban Chicago last week, but there is no sign a new collective bargaining agreement is imminent.
The NFL's motion reads: "Defendants hereby move the Court ... for an order dismissing the Brady and Eller plaintiffs' Amended Complaints for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (in whole or in part), or, in the alternative, for an order dismissing or staying the cases under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction."
The league is moving for the antitrust case to be dismissed because of the non-statutory labor exemption, and claiming that the National Labor Relations Board must rule on its unfair labor practices charge -- which asserts the NFLPA's decertification of the union was a sham -- before it moves forward on any antitrust complaint.
Nelson ruled in favor of the players on both the non-statutory labor exemption and the NLRB's jurisdiction in April.
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering the league's case on both counts now, coming off last Friday's hearing in St. Louis, and Monday's motion sets up the league for when the case gets sent back to Nelson's court, should the appellate court rule in its favor. A ruling for the league on the non-statutory labor exemption with the 8th Circuit could prompt Nelson to dismiss the antitrust case, while a ruling for the league on the NLRB's jurisdiction could lead her to stay the case until the labor board rules.
The NLRB moved the case forward last week, pushing it from its New York office to the Division of Advice in Washington, D.C., which will consider the legal ramifications of the NFL's claims. A source with knowledge of the situation said a ruling in that matter from the NLRB is still "a ways off."
The NFL is now responsible for a more thorough explanation of its motion to dismiss, a brief that will be due August 1.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.