NFC North: judge ends lockout

This could all change if the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis issues an immediate stay order, but as of now it appears that at least two NFC North teams have scheduled Monday team meetings to kick off their offseason strength and conditioning programs.

Chicago Bears assistant coaches are informing players about a Monday morning meeting, according to ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson. And according to player agent Scott Smith, who represents Detroit Lions offensive lineman Dylan Gandy among others, Lions players have a Monday meeting and will have their first organized team activity on Wednesday.

Again, those meetings would be canceled if a stay reverts us back to the lockout. Absent a stay, it appears we will be back to a full-fledged offseason schedule by Monday. Stay tuned.

*Update: Minnesota Vikings running back Lorenzo Booker told Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Vikings players have a Monday meeting as well.

*Update II: The Bears adjusted their original plans and will now kick off their offseason program May 9. Their mandatory minicamp will be June 3-5.
Here are some bottom-line bullet points about how the NFL will operate over the next few days after this week's labor developments:
  • The draft will go on as scheduled, beginning Thursday night.
  • Team facilities remain closed to players through Thursday.
  • Starting Friday at 8 a.m. ET, teams can resume football contact with players. Facilities will be open for workouts, coaches can meet with players about football matters, playbooks can be handed out organized team activities (OTAs) can be held if teams choose to. The same goes for minicamps.
  • Contract discussions and player movement will still be barred, however. The NFL will notify teams later Friday when the free-agent market will open and when trades will be allowed. Early speculation is that it won't come before next Monday.

This timeline is subject to the NFL's request for a stay of the injunction that has forced this awkward period. That request is currently before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

So all of the above would be rendered moot if the stay is granted.

Again, nothing has changed for Thursday and it might not change at all if the stay is granted.

Now, back to the draft. ...
Indications late Wednesday night were that the NFL would continue to operate under the "lockout purgatory" rules it established Tuesday and Wednesday while pursuing a legal stay on its lockout. So far, at least, that's exactly the way Thursday has played out.

At least two NFC North players have reported to team facilities to work out but were turned away. While there have been reports of agents calling teams to jump-start free-agent and trade discussions, there are no indications that any moves are forthcoming. We'll leave the legal analysis to the experts, but the practical result is that through mid-morning nothing has really changed.

For those interested:
  • Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway reported to the team's Winter Park facility but was told by vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski that the weight room was not available. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune has the story. Greenway: "I don't want to put anybody in a bad position. I just want to see how things shake out and hopefully it will be soon."
  • Chicago Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould tried for the second time this week to work out at the team's Halas Hall facility. Gould, however, tweeted that the locker room and weight room were "closed."

Many of you are already suggesting that the NFL is in contempt of court for refusing to follow U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's order to lift the lockout. I don't know what to tell you about that. I'm guessing the NFL is banking on winning a stay and then overturning her ruling on appeal. But I thought Bears tight end Greg Olsen had a good point via Twitter: "If the roles were reversed in labor dispute on eve of training camp and a player didn't show up to camp would he be fined?"

As always, stay tuned.

Free agency unlikely on Thursday

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
10:32
PM ET
Some of you night owls might be aware that U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson has denied the NFL's request for a stay on the injunction that lifted its lockout earlier this week. Technically that means the league is open for business, including trades and free agent signings, on the eve of the 2011 draft.

Practically, however, it appears Thursday will evolve much like Tuesday and Wednesday. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the NFL will tell its teams to hold off on all offseason business, with the exception of the draft, while it files a stay request with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. ESPN analyst and National Football Post president Andrew Brandt concurred, tweeting that the NFL won't effectively open its doors for business unless it fails to receive a stay from the appeals court.

Bottom line: If you were hoping your NFC North team would sign a free agent or two before the draft begins Thursday night, or would like them to include players in trade offers during the draft, I'm sorry. As of late Wednesday night, at least, that doesn't appear likely. We're back at it in the morning.
Tuesday came and went without much clarity on when this period of lockout purgatory will continue in the NFL. But for those interested, let's wrap up what happened in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Three players showed up at Halas Hall, according to team president Ted Phillips. Place-kicker Robbie Gould, defensive end Israel Idonije and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina were allowed into the building but were restricted from using the facilities. "... [W]e're not opening the building for business yet,' Phillips said. "Hopefully we will soon."

Detroit Lions: According to multiple reports, no Lions players showed up at the team's Allen Park practice facility. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the team's player representative, advised players against it. Vanden Bosch, via Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com: ""My understanding is that the doors to the facility would be open but we wouldn't be able to work out or talk to our coaches much. I don't know how much progress would be made or what the benefit might be. We'll wait until things become clearer."

Green Bay Packers: According to team president/CEO Mark Murphy, no players showed up at Lambeau Field. Murphy, who has a key NFL role as a member of the Management Council Executive Committee, said he anticipates more clarity by the end of this week. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has more.

Minnesota Vikings: Backup linebacker Erin Henderson was the only player to visit the Vikings' Winter Park facility. He departed after being told he could not use the cold tub. Coach Leslie Frazier said he had a "very brief conversation" with Henderson as he moved through the building.

According to NFL.com, the NFL Players Association has recommended that agents immediately begin initiating contract discussions with teams. But it's safe to say that teams aren't going to respond. Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said teams were instructed to maintain the lockout "status quo" -- when contact with veteran players and agents was barred -- until further notice.

Robbie Gould among those to report

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
10:29
AM ET
I'm doing my best to monitor NFC North post-lockout happenings Tuesday morning from here at blog headquarters. It appears that a handful of our players have reported to their team's facilities as a matter of labor strategy, knowing full well the NFL has instructed teams to treat them courteously and with respect but to keep weight rooms and other resources off limits.

Many NFL players have scattered to their offseason homes or alternate training sites and wouldn't be in position to report Tuesday morning. A few, however, have made attempts.

Gould
Gould
Chicago Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould, the team's player representative, tweeted that he reported to Halas Hall on Tuesday morning.
Gould: "Walked into the facility for a workout and was told I couldn't workout until clarification comes from judges ruling. ... Lockout lifted locker room and weight room closed."

Gould told Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com that "all you can do if you show up today as a player is to basically tour the facility." He said Bears contract negotiator Cliff Stein came down from his office and told him he could not work out Tuesday. Players who arrived were being briefed in the team cafeteria.

"I spoke to both Stein and team president Ted Phillips," Gould said, "and they claimed the reason players won't be able to work out is because of fiscal liability. They just don't want to run the financial risk of anyone getting hurt."

Meanwhile, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson tweeted that he planned to report to the Vikings' facility to use their cold tub. Of the NFL's instructions to treat players respectfully, Henderson tweeted: "I'm about to put that 2 test."

Chris Jenkins of the Associated Press has been staking out the Green Bay Packers' player parking lot but has yet to see anyone report. The same goes for the Detroit Lions, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.

Let's be clear about what's happening here Tuesday morning. In wake of Monday's court ruling, it's in the players' best interest to treat this time period as if it is a normal offseason day. It makes sense to put the teams in the awkward and perhaps legally indefensible position of turning them away even after the lockout has been lifted.

And frankly, players are also positioning themselves to qualify for offseason workout bonuses by reporting, some of which are worth $100,000 or more.

This surreal phase will seemingly last at least into Wednesday, when legal briefs are due on the NFL's request for an immediate stay to resume the lockout while it appeals Monday's verdict.
As you no doubt have heard by now, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson has ordered an end to the NFL's owner-imposed lockout. The league has planned an immediate appeal, with a request for a stay until the appeal is decided.

In other words, it's not clear if the NFL's offseason will begin imminently or if we are still several court decisions away from real action. I'm guessing the latter, but in the event of the former, it's worth re-visiting last month's post on the potential for a court-ordered offseason.

If the owners don't receive a stay and/or lose the appeal, the expectation has been they will revert to 2010 offseason rules to determine player movement in the absence of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If that's the case, some players who would have been unrestricted free agents under a presumptive new CBA would instead be restricted free agents in 2011, making them far more likely to remain with their original teams.

Here is a partial list of the key players who fall in this category and thus are anxiously awaiting word on the stay request. We'll have more as news warrants.

Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

SPONSORED HEADLINES