Friday's ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declaring that the NFL lockout remains in place came as no surprise to either party and multiple sources on both sides said it should not derail the negotiating process to any degree.
Negotiations in New York continue and the sides remain cautiously hopeful they can resolve the remaining hurdles within the next week, though there are no guarantees.
However, according to legal sources who have read Friday's ruling, the language from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court creates an opportunity for the NFL Players Association to file another expedited injunction seeking additional rights for rookies and free agents not under contract. And, according to a high-placed source within the NFLPA, the players would file that injunction if a labor agreement is not struck in short order.
The NFL would not be permitted to appeal any ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson regarding a new injunction for rookies and free agents, according to lawyers who have read Friday's decision. The wording of Friday's decision says that injunction, if sought, would be legal.
Friday's ruling contains language that leaves open the specific rights "free agents and rookies" possess under the lockout. Rules of the NFL lockout prohibit any contact between players and teams regarding virtually all matters and explicitly contract negotiations are deemed illegal. According to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court's ruling, those issues "should be addressed by the district court in the first instance."
According to the NFLPA source, the potential injunction on rookies and free agents that would be filed with Judge Nelson would be for the right for those players to immediately negotiate and sign deals.
Thus, the players could return to Judge Nelson's court in Minnesota and seek a separate injunction on the lockout, limited to rookies and free agents, based on the contention that those not under contract have the right to engage in contract talks with potential employers in the NFL. Given that Judge Nelson previously declared the lockout itself illegal, her interpretation would seemingly side with the players, and an expedited decision could come within a matter of weeks after filing, the NFLPA believes.
If there is not an agreement reached between the NFL and the players on a new labor deal in the short term, then the players "would seek an injunction right away," according to the source. However, as always, one would expect an appeal to be involved and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court has taken a different view of things than Judge Nelson to this stage. But it's the NFLPA lawyer's interpretation of Friday's decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court, based on the wording of the ruling, that such an injunction would be legal and not subject to appeal.
The timing of an injunction, and any subsequent appeal, could become complicated and, right now, it's the threat of losing preseason games and real revenue and paychecks -- not court decisions -- driving the urgency with labor talks. Friday's ruling doesn't change that, and the only chance to start a preseason and regular season on time continues to come from the bargaining table, and nowhere else.