Last week, five former NFL players — led by former Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller — filed suit against the league and its 32 teams, making many of the same arguments advanced by current players in the Tom Brady antitrust lawsuit.
The problem? The retired players aren’t suffering any of the same injuries as the current players, since the retired players aren’t, you know, current players.
And so the brief filed in court today by the NFL, a copy of which PFT has obtained, duplicates the arguments made against the current players’ antitrust case. The NFL also argues that the retired players have suffered no injury due to any violation of the antitrust laws. Instead, because the retired players focus on the possibility that the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Retired Players Pension Plan will be terminated one year after expiration of the labor agreement, that possibility has no connection to any actual or alleged antitrust allegation.
The good news for the Eller plaintiffs is that they’ve added a rookie to the list of plaintiffs, which allows their attack on the 2011 draft to proceed. (In the Brady case, the current players argue only as to the 2011 draft that any restrictions of payment of rookies would violate the antitrust laws.) That said, the expired labor deal expressly contemplates that one draft will occur following expiration of the agreement.
Even though the incoming rookies aren’t members of the union, the agreements reached by the league and the non-asterisked NFLPA arguably bind the incoming rookies, for the same reason that those who aren’t yet union members are bound by the three-year waiting period between graduation of their high school class and entry into the draft. Per Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the new plaintiff is University of Wisconsin-Stout receiver Antawan Walker, a largely unknown prospect who likely won’t be drafted, anyway, and who thus will be eligible for unrestricted free agency.
The NFL is represented in the Eller case by the same team of lawyers who will handle the Brady case, including renowned lawyer David Boies.