Just when it looked like they could return to work, NFL players are bracing themselves for a ruling Friday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granting owners a temporary stay of U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson's injunction against the lockout.
The stay, according to a source familiar with the players' interests, would be of the "administrative" variety, meaning the lockout would not be lifted until Monday at the earliest. At that point, upon receipt of the owners' final submission, the Eighth Circuit would weigh the players' argument against a stay pending the league's appeal of Nelson's ruling to the Eighth Circuit and decide whether to keep the stay in place until they render a decision on the appeal.
According to a second source familiar with the ongoing legal maneuverings, members of the decertified NFL Players Association’s executive committee received an email Friday from people involved with the plaintiff's side of the Brady et al antitrust lawsuit informing them that the Eighth Circuit would be making an announcement shortly. The announcement, the lawyers for the players concluded, would likely be a temporary administrative stay of Nelson’s injunction.
That would put the brakes on the plans the NFL announced Thursday in the wake of Nelson's denial of the league's stay request to open up team facilities to players for workouts Friday and to begin the resumption of numerous offseason activities, including conversations between players with coaches, offseason training activities and mandatory and voluntary minicamps. The NFL hadn't announced a start of the "league year," which would trigger the beginning of unrestricted free agency and allow player trades to take place, but it was clearly moving in that direction.
If a stay is granted, the players would remain locked out of their place of employment until the Eighth Circuit decides whether to overturn or uphold Judge Nelson's 89-page ruling the lockout was enjoined pending the resolution of the Brady antitrust lawsuit. That provided a significant leverage boost to the players, who strive to continue playing (and earning paychecks) while they fight their case in court. The owners are hoping to get the players to accept a less-favorable deal in a prospective collective bargaining agreement by applying pressure via a lockout, which began March 12 after the CBA expired.
The second source said he was trying to notify members of his team to keep them from following through on travel arrangements that would allow them to return to the team's training facility as early as today. In some cases, attendance would satisfy contract clauses that trigger workout bonuses, and numerous NFL players were expected to board flights Friday morning in an effort to get credit for reporting to their respective facilities, as per the NFL's Thursday statement.