In a ruling that was expected — and expected Monday — Judge Susan Richard Nelson has ruled for the players in the Brady v. NFL case, not only lifting the lockout, but refusing to grant a stay pending an appeal. The more conservative ruling would have been to stay the injunction and prevent any action between now and the inevitable process in the Court of Appeals, but initial reports indicate that she has not done so.
The question is, what happens now? When the ruling is filed, the assumption is that between that filing and whatever happens upon appeal, the league would essentially be open for business regarding free agency, players able to visit team facilities, etc. But the other assumption is that the NFL was expecting this ruling, which has been the case all along — the league knew that Nelson would rule this way and was simply waiting to argue its case in front of the Court of Appeals.
[Related: Check out the complete ruling (PDF)]
Nelson originally heard Brady v. NFL at a hearing on April 6, and said that she would take approximately two weeks to make her ruling. She encouraged the owners and players to engage in further negotiations while she weighed the arguments, but those talks broke down after four days. Previously, two weeks of mediated talks broke down in Washington, D.C., leading to the lockout on March 11.
Depending on whether the stay is granted pending appeal, we could have quite the little Wild-West situation going on in the days leading up to the draft. It's possible that teams could rush to sign and trade free agents, and it's also possible that the owners could refuse to sign or trade anyone, which would probably lend credence to the collusion case that the NFLPA already has going.
The NFL released a statement with a predictable message: "We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes. We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a CBA, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs & fans."
It's a complicated process in the short and long term, but a ruling for the players is a major step to a full season. That's the good news. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.