Judge Susan Nelson Rules in Favor of Players, Grants Injunction to Block NFL Lockout

NFL players earned a major victory Monday, when Judge Susan Nelson ruled in their favor to lift the lockout.

It was expected that Nelson would grant the injunction to block the lockout, but Nelson did not grant a stay to the owners. The owners will request a stay from Nelson, and if she declines a stay, the owners can request a stay from the Eighth Circuit. The owners will also appeal Nelson’s preliminary injunction ruling to the Eighth Circuit. A “stay” would keep the lockout in place until the appeal of the injunction is complete.

Based on Nelson’s 89-page ruling, it appears unlikely she will grant a stay. Nelson determined the players were facing irreparable harm during the lockout, which means they were suffering damages that cannot be repaired on a monetary basis. Since the players’ careers are limited, Nelson determined they could no longer afford to miss any more time of the offseason process, and that’s why she blocked the lockout.

If the Eighth Circuit declines to grant a stay, the NFL will be open for business, pending the appeal of the injunction. The stay could conceivably be issued as early as Tuesday.

If the NFL opens for business, it will still have to implement rules for free agency and trades. The league never announced a start date for free agency for the 2011 league year, and Monday’s ruling has not changed that. However, since the lockout has ended — until a stay is granted, if that happens — teams should be able to contact players and conduct workouts.

The appeal of the injunction should be expedited, but it might still take a month or two, based on estimations from league sources. And while the players were expected to win the injunction ruling, the appeal process will be their greatest challenge because the Eighth Circuit has the reputation as a more conservative court system, and league sources have indicated for months it will be more difficult for the players to win the owners’ appeal of an injunction.

If the owners lose their appeal of the injunction, the NFL will be completely open for business, and the 2011 regular season is expected to be played in its entirety. However, the two sides will still have to work toward a new collective bargaining agreement, but the NFL does not need a CBA intact to play its next season.

If the owners win the appeal, the two sides will be back to square one, and that will severely limit the chances of playing a full regular season in 2011. For that to happen, the two sides would need to reach a new CBA, which won’t be easy due to the ugly tenor of the negotiations up until this point. Plus, the owners would have all of the leverage, making them less willing to budge from their demands.

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