Technically, nothing has changed. The suspensions apply to the regular season only, so both players are free to participate in the Vikings' offseason program. And plenty will happen in this case before we get to September.
As we discussed earlier this week, both players will appeal the decision. Judge Gary Larson ruled the NFL did in fact violate Minnesota labor laws, but said the players were not harmed by the violations. Given the yes-no nature of that decision, both players have asked for a temporary injunction that would delay their suspensions until the appeals process is exhausted.*
I think we would have been in for a longer fight if Larson had ruled against the NFL, given the bigger ramifications on drug testing throughout sports if he would have allowed state law to trump federal law. But it appears the players will at least seek a reversal of Larson's decision.
For football fans, the question becomes how long the appeals process will take and whether it could possibly be resolved before the 2010 regular season. If it is, the Vikings will have to tap an 18-month-old contingency plan to replace the heart of their defensive line for a quarter of the season.
If you remember, the team signed free agent Jimmy Kennedy shortly after the suspensions were originally announced in December 2008.
Kennedy re-signed for the 2009 season, had three sacks in limited playing time, and then signed a two-year deal over the winter. Between Kennedy, Fred Evans and 2008 draft pick Letroy Guion, the Vikings consider themselves covered.
"We have pretty good depth there," vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said after the draft last month. Scott Studwell, director of college scouting, said a potential suspension wasn't discussed in the week leading up to the draft.
"That's been an ongoing issue that we're almost immune to," Studwell said. "I know it's ongoing, and it's certainly a concern. But we've got a lot of depth in our defensive tackle group right now."
As always, stay tuned.
*Update: According to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Larson told attorneys on both sides to submit briefs on the injunction matter and said he would rule on it in two weeks. If he grants the injunction, both players will be available for games until the appeals process is exhausted. If he denies it, they will have to hope they can win an appeal before the start of the 2010 regular season.