Uncertainty Rules As NFL Goes 'Deadwood': Latest Lockout Updates

The league has turned into the Wild Wild West since yesterday's lockout-lifting decision by Federal Judge Susan Nelson in the US 8th Circuit Court. ESPN's Adam Schefter just tweeted that the players have requested the judge to force the league to open for business immediately. The judge has given the league until 5pm Central time tomorrow to respond to the request.

Make the jump for much more...

Players have asked Judge Nelson judge to force NFL owners to start the league year. Judge ordered owners to respond by 5 pm. tomorrow.via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Reports streamed in earlier that Judge Nelson had required the plaintiffs in the case (former NFLPA) to respond to the NFL's request for a stay by 9 AM Central on Wednesday. Various reports around the web last night had indicated that Nelson had denied the stay already, but that wasn'tthe case. Here's the tweet from NFL.com's Jason LaConfora:

Judge Nelson has issued an order requiring the Plaintiffs (NFLPA) to respond to NFL's request for a stay by 9AM Wed. No ruling by her today via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply

 

One of my favorite short-lived television series was Deadwood, a show that ran on HBO for two seasons. Deadwood chronicled the founding of the US western territory, a time and region ruled by making up laws as you went along. It was an epic series, and something I see as a fit comparison to what the NFL is going through right now. A league generally able to make it's own rules, is now being swooped down on by the Pinkerton's, aka Federal Judge Nelson. While everyone is scrambling to figure out what message was being sent, the individual owners seem to be legally free to do what they want in respect to their rosters. The question is, will the loosely gathered collective act in the best interest of the group, or themselves?

Last night, The NFL sent notice to the Pinkertons announcing their intentions.

Overnight, NFL filed notice to Judge Nelson that they were appealing to the 8th circuit. They want the 8th circuit to handle it by June.via ÜberSocial Favorite Retweet Reply

 

So the rumors are running rampant about what this means for the league. It seems that some coaching staffs, the contingent I've always contested falls in the middle of the squabble, immediately took the opportunity to reach out to players and discuss the myriad of things that they've been restricted from communicating. Sports Illustrated Jim Trotter tweeted last night:

was just told that some players have been contacted by their position coaches, who are capitalizing on this time of limbo. smart move?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply


ESPN's Adam Schefter then reported that NFL teams were advised by the NFL Management Council to allow players into the facilities, but refuse them access to the weight room. I assume this is in relation to liability uncertainty. Players in turn, immediately stated that they would show up at team facilities so many of them can earn the workout bonuses that are in their contracts. The Jets' D'Bricashaw Ferguson is going in to earn his $750K bonus.

Pittsburgh's Ryan Clark was just on ESPN's First Take and said players went to the Steelers facilities and were allowed in, but the locker rooms were locked.

SN Nation's Carolina Panther blog, catscratchreader.com's James Dator discussed this morning the impact the recent revelations have on the league.

On 'Mike & Mike in the Morning' today they were discussing the 89 page opinion of Judge Nelson as being 'appeal proof'. Essentially she wanted to make an indelible mark on these proceedings and she's done just that. The feeling now is that she will not grant a stay, and even with an emergency ruling by the 8th circuit court it would likely be June before a stay could be granted.

ProFootballTalk.com has a report from the Trade Association's DeMaurice Smith (head of the former NFLPA).

... Smith says he’s relieved that Judge Susan Nelson lifted the lockout, but he’s dismayed that the owners’ side in the labor battle isn’t starting the league year right now.

“I’m certainly happy for that,” Smith said on ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning. “I know our fans love football. To be in a state where the National Football League is allowing this kind of chaos to occur, I’m not sure this is a good day for football.”

“I’m not the commissioner of the National Football League,” Smith said. “He’s the commissioner of the league. And we’re in a world where the owners of the National Football League opted out of a contract that was fine. They went to the Supreme Court to try to stick it to the players and they lost. They tried to keep revenue sharing from happening in 2010 and they lost. A judge ruled that they gamed the TV contracts to lock the players out and they lost. And then they lock the players out and took football from our fans, and yesterday they lost.”

PFT's Michael Smith then relayed the NFL's response.

Immediately after Smith’s comments, the NFL’s lawyer, Jeff Pash, came on ESPN Radio to offer his side, saying he expects to win on appeal.

“I think it’s quite a stretch to say that the judge ruled yesterday that we broke the law or violated any law,” Pash said. “We’re quite confident that our position will be sustained when we’re in front of the Eighth Circuit.”

Pash said it’s too soon to say exactly what yesterday’s ruling means regarding when players could return to team facilities.

“We’re trying to determine what’s the scope of the order,” Pash said. “We’ve asked for a stay. If that stay is given, either by the trial judge or by the court of appeals, that would affect what happens in the facilities. We’re going to take it one step at a time in an orderly way, in a way that’s fair and evenhanded for the players and all 32 clubs. But our commitment is to comply with the orders.”

Judge Nelson specifically mentioned four-time league MVP Peyton Manning in her ruling, stating that the lockout and the exclusive rights free agent tag keep Manning from being able to shop his services in a free market. Manning is currently slated to earn $23 million from the tag, but has to report to Indianapolis. Because of this lockout lifting, any owner in the league can right now offer Manning a 10 year $300 million contract.

As the de facto king of kings, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has some responsibility to the collective, and probably won't break ranks and sign free agents or make trades. But this window means that legally, it's possible. Could any of the other owners, maybe the ones on the opposite side of the table from those that think the system needs to be reworked, make a splash? Could the divide we always figured would come from players in different tax brackets, actually come from the owners?

For now, it appears that the NFL teams are telling the owners to police themselves in the interest of the collective, but no rules govern the town. Even the most in-the-know scribes are leaving everything open to possibility. All of the names I've mentioned plus several more have said we're all in wait and see mode, Deadwood indeed. We'll see over the next 24-48 hours how exactly this shakes out.

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