NEW YORK — If these are not fun times for football fans, they are captivating days for lawyers.
The NFL lockout is back in force after a short hiatus last week. A St. Louis appeals court could determine as early as Monday whether the league deserves a permanent stay of an injunction granted to the players in Minnesota to block the lockout.
“We are in uncharted but fascinating legal territory,” agent and attorney Ralph Cindrich said as he examined the short-term reinstatement of the lockout by three judges from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “The owners’ lockout is temporary now; it can become permanent after the same three judges do a detailed review. If the lockout is reinstated, it puts the players down on points big.”
If it’s not, something Cindrich predicts, league business could resume almost immediately, even as more NFL appeals are filed. Cindrich believes that even though those judges voted 2-1 Friday to review the matter, they won’t overturn Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s original determination that the lockout was preventing the players from earning a living.
With the draft behind them, the 32 teams can’t have contact with any players. That includes veterans along with rookies just selected. It also means undrafted free agents, who usually sign contracts hours after the seventh round concludes or the next day.
“You just do what you do and abide by the guidelines the league puts out as we go along,” Rams general manager Billy Devaney said. “Everybody’s in the same boat; we’re not stressing out or anything. It’ll eventually get settled and you just go with it.”
Going with it for the players means training on their own. For first-round picks, it means devouring the playbooks they were able to get from their teams during Friday’s short break in the lockout.
“The quarterbacks and offensive linemen and wide receivers, these young guys, can you imagine? With no mini-camps and no OTAs, if they show up Aug. 1 to training camp, they’re going to be so lost,” Montana-based agent Ken Staninger said. “It may be a lost draft, other than the elite-elite.”
For coaches, it means evaluating how they addressed their needs in the draft, and which undrafted players they might approach when allowed to do so.
Dallas coach Jason Garrett has all his plans organized for offseason workouts and minicamps.
“What we did is we laid out the entire calendar for the offseason assuming there was no lockout,” Garrett said. “So all of those dates were in place soon after the season ended. But obviously we had to be responsive to the lockout and when the players came back, and we’ll continue to do that based on what the new rules are.”
Those rules are uncertain even if the players win the next round in the appeals court. Among the league’s options is reinstating the 2010 guidelines, which featured more limited free agency and no salary cap. And no minimum for spending, which could come into play more than ever with some owners who fear profits will continue to decline.
“It’s a chaotic time,” said Ben Dogra, agent for Sam Bradford and Patrick Willis, among many other players. “There are a lot of moving points, and it means daily uncertainty.”
Amid the uncertainty, one message rang clear at Radio City Music Hall during the draft. It was delivered by the fans, who repeatedly booed Commissioner Roger Goodell and also chanted “we want football.”
Goodell responded, “So do I.”
For now, getting football back is in the hands of the judges.