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NFL Lockout Back On....For Now

Ok, it's only for a few days, but the lockout is as of right now back in business. Friday, during the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the NFL draft, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the league a temporary stay of Judge Nelson's decision lifting the lockout. This doesn't mean the fight is over, or even that we know which way it's going to go. It simply means that the only thing we know for sure is that for now, and possibly the next few days, the lockout is back on. The real news could come down as early as this afternoon.

Let's recap. Early last week, District Court Judge Susan Nelson granted the players' request for an injunction lifting the lockout while their underlying antitrust suit is decided. The NFL asked her to stay, meaning delay, her ruling until they could appeal. She, of course, declined to stay her own ruling. The NFL then ran to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the next highest level of the federal court system, to ask them for a stay pending their appeal. This time, the 8th Circuit agreed to grant the NFL a TEMPORARY stay. This is where it gets a bit confusing. This isn't the full stay pending appeal the NFL wanted. It's simply a stay of a few days while the 8th Circuit decides whether to grant the full stay. Got it?

For the moment, the lockout is back on. However, just before they got their stay, the NFL released plans to begin the new league year. That means all the things we know and love-OTAs, minicamp, player trades, and free agency, are ready to go. They'll be done according to the rules of the expired CBA, meaning there will be a franchise tag (Hey VJ! Where do you think you're going?), and 6 years of service time required for unrestricted free agency (Stick around Weddle. You're not through yet). None of that is in play quite yet, though, because we have the temporary stay in place.

The 8th Circuit is expected to rule on the full stay by the end of this week at the latest. The way these things work is that there is a three-judge panel who will hear the parties' arguments and decide whether the District Court made any mistakes. There are rules on what they can and can't consider, but good lawyers like they have on both sides will make convincing arguments one way or the other. My feeling is that the NFL will again lose, the panel will deny the full stay, and the league year will start. That certainly isn't a given, and we could be back to having the lockout for quite some time.

Their decision on the full stay will be a pretty good indication of which way they will rule on the ultimate appeal of the injunction--if they grant the stay, they'll likely reverse the injunction and the lockout will be back on for good. If they deny the stay, they will probably deny the appeal and the NFL will be forced to start the new league year. So we'll find out what happens sometime this week. The judges could even come to a decision as early as today, though that's probably not too likely. Fingers crossed!