NFC West: judge ends lockout

The latest legal setback for the NFL comes as little surprise.

It's the timing of the setback that raises the stakes for the league -- and for NFC West teams in particular.

With the draft set to begin Thursday, teams do not yet know to what extent the league will open for business in accordance with a federal court order striking down the owners' lockout against players. U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson's refusal to stay her decision pending an appeal sent league attorneys scrambling for relief from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Even if the appeals court ultimately granted a stay, there's no telling when that court would issue such a decision. In the meantime, there's a draft to conduct, and teams need to know as soon as possible whether they can trade players under contract, sign free agents, etc.

Every NFC West team but the St. Louis Rams needs a starting quarterback. Opening the trade market could send the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers scrambling after veteran options such as Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb, a player Seattle inquired about last offseason. Teams in the division could conceivably reach out to long-time Seattle starter Matt Hasselbeck, hammering out a deal before the draft begins. That sort of scenario seems unlikely, but it's tough to take anything for granted under the circumstances.

Barring an expedited assist from the appeals court, would the league fall into contempt of court if it refused to allow at least some level of trades involving players? Nelson was explicit, after all, in her instructions to the league, even though she refused to lay out specific operating rules.

This should be a dramatic Thursday, even by NFL draft standards.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's recent column in the Wall Street Journal warned of impending doom if players' attorneys prevail in ongoing court battles.

The column invited strong criticism from various quarters, and then there was this: veteran guard Chester Pitts, player rep for the Seattle Seahawks, agreeing with characterizations of Goodell as "Fraud-ger" instead of Roger, and comparing league attorney Jeff Pash to something best flushed down a toilet.

Pitts made the remarks during a segment Wednesday with Mike Salk and Brock Huard on 710ESPN Seattle. Salk characterized Goodell as fraudulent and asked Pitts for thoughts on the commissioner. The Pash characterization was unsolicited. Pitts:
"[Goodell] has tried to find in the media’s eyes and the people’s eyes a middle ground where he is not seen as an employee of the owners, when everyone in the world knows he is. But I think if he would just own up to that and say, 'Everything I’m going to do, I’m going to back what my owners tell me to do,' then I think that he wouldn’t be a fraud any more. We may not like him, the same way I don’t like Jeff Pash, but Jeff Pash is consistent. He’s a consistent turd, but he is consistent. He is what he is."

This is the first time I can recall one person labeling another person a "turd" and meaning it as a compliment. Makes a fan want to run out and purchase season tickets, no?

Pitts' less personal points, including that player are gaining ground as more becomes known, are worth a listen. You might want to plug your nose just to be safe.
Among the new developments at NFC West facilities since the earlier item:
  • St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis showed up, but details were sketchy, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes.
  • Running back Justin Forsett and defensive back Roy Lewis showed up at Seattle Seahawks headquarters, but they reported being unable to enter the building, Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle reports.
  • Add safety Kerry Rhodes to the list of players showing up at Arizona Cardinals headquarters, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says. Rhodes was hoping to qualify for a $500,000 workout bonus this offseason.

Bring on the draft, please.
A quick look around NFC West team headquarters from reporters monitoring potential fallout from the court ruling striking down the NFL lockout:
The courts might have struck down the lockout, but nothing much has changed. We're still waiting to see whether the courts allow the lockout to stand pending an appeal. In the meantime, teams appear ready to greet players and tell them, in effect, that there's nothing to see here.
Comments from ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson to Trey Wingo on NFL Live following Judge Susan Nelson's ruling striking down the lockout:
"In these 89 pages, Judge Nelson wrote the opinion that the players and their lawyers dreamed of a few weeks ago. She gave them everything that they need now to make the injunction stick and to end the lockout. She did not write this opinion for us at ESPN. She wrote this opinion for the judges on the higher court, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. When they read it, they are going to be very reluctant to give the stay that the owners want.

"The NFL wants everybody to think this is a labor dispute. Well, it is not any more. It is an antitrust case. Judge Nelson explained all of that. The NFL had four basic arguments. She destroyed each one of them. The owners basically went 0-for-4. Now, they are going to have to come up with something new in order to impress the 8th Circuit and try to get the lockout back in effect. I don't think they are going to be able to do it. I think the lockout may have come to an end today."

Sounds like great new for the NFL Players Association and those who want to restore the offseason without regard for the NFL's concerns in this matter.

What are the NFL's options if the 8th Circuit does not keep the lockout in place by granting the league's request for a stay? That becomes the next question if Munson's prediction comes true.

NFC West players that should report

April, 25, 2011
The NFL has no plans to open for business immediately following a court ruling against the lockout, but that should not stop players from reporting to work as a matter of strategy.

As noted in March, numerous NFC West players stood to collect significant sums for their participation in offseason workout programs. Those players have every reason to report for work Tuesday, just in case it helps them collect on those bonuses.

This is a fluid situation, obviously, and no one knows for certain what will happen next. It's an upset, however, if players do not show up for work following the ruling Monday.

The chart shows NFC West players with workout bonuses of at least $200,000, plus a column showing what percentage of workouts players must attend to realize the bonus. A few players on the list project as candidates for release this offseason.

Seeking answers to labor questions

April, 25, 2011
Life in the NFC West and the NFL in general would change dramatically if a judge's decision to end the lockout results in free agency before the draft.

The league says it will seek from the courts a stay keeping the lockout in place pending an appeal. In the meantime, the decision produces more questions than answers:
  • How quickly might there be a ruling on a stay?
  • What happens before there's a ruling on a stay?
  • What happens if a stay is denied?
  • Is the league right when it says putting in place rules for free agency could open itself to additional antitrust claims?

We're accustomed to seeking direction from the league on such matters, but the with attorneys and the courts involved, answers could come elsewhere. More to come.

Earlier: Would the lockout end immediately?

Update: League executive Greg Aiello tells Andrew Brandt the league will wait for a response on its stay request before opening the league for business.