It’s been 23 days since the NFL and its players stopped trying to work out a new labor deal. As the negotiations collapsed, the NFLPA decertified as a union and a group of ten players — including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees — filed a class-action lawsuit against the league office and the 32 NFL franchises.
On Wednesday, the case heads to court for the first time, as the players attempt to obtain an injunction that would force the league to lift the lockout while the antitrust lawsuit proceeds.
Given the arguments made by the parties, there’s not much middle ground. Someone is right on the money, and someone is dead wrong. And so Judge Susan Nelson either will agree with the players and grant the injunction, or she’ll agree with the owners and allow the lockout to stand. (There’s a chance that she’ll find that the players are suffering no irreparable harm at the present time, but that they could be suffering irreparable harm once training camp opens and/or when the season starts. As a result, she could deny the motion now and invite the players to re-file it later in the year.)
Inevitably, the ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. If the players win, the league will ask Judge Nelson to “stay” the injunction pending appeal.
Whoever loses at the appellate level could then try to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. With the term ending in June or so, emergency procedures would need to be utilized in order to get a final ruling before the Supreme Court breaks for year, to reconvene in October.
Despite plenty of speculation, no one knows the amount of time the process will consume. However, courts tend to take requests of this nature seriously. The high-profile status of the fight could accelerate it even more quickly than the “normal” case would proceed.
The eventual winner will acquire significant leverage in the negotiations, if/when any negotiations ever occur again. If the lockout ends, the players will be getting paid and playing football and their leverage will be the league’s inability to lock the players out and the strength of their antitrust lawsuit (which would be strong but, despite characterizations by some in the media, by no means a slam dunk). If the league wins, the lockout will continue and there will be no football until the two sides reach an agreement.
Either way, the two sides need to start talking again. We favor whatever outcome in court makes that happen in real life.