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Ten things to know, right now, about the lockout ruling

NFL Lockout Looms As Negotiations Are Extended Getty Images

With Judge Susan Nelson lifting the lockout via court order on Monday, plenty of you have plenty of questions.

We’ve tried to anticipate 10 of them.

And then we tried to answer them.

1.  What does it mean?

In short, it means that the players’ strategy has worked, so far.  When the union decertified, the objective was to place the players in position to block a lockout.  Now, football can continue — with the players getting paid — while the two sides potentially move toward working out an agreement, at some point.

Of course, if the NFL prevails on appeal, the lockout will continue until the players agree to terms.  With the lockout lifted, the players will be able to dig in, since their ability to work and be paid won’t be riding on their willingness to strike a deal.

2.  What happens next?

The league wants to “stay” (i.e., delay) the lifting of the lockout pending an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. The argument will be that opening the doors temporarily and then closing them after winning the case on appeal will create an undue hardship for the league.

If the league gets a stay, the lockout will remain in effect until the appeal is resolved.

If the league doesn’t get a stay, the lockout ends — and the new “league year” starts, with free agency and trades and players being cut and offseason workouts and, basically, business as usual.  Unless and until the league wins on appeal.

3.  What will happen on appeal?

The league is confident that it will win the appeal.  The confidence comes in part from the fact that 13 of the 16 judges (active and senior status) assigned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit were nominated by Republican presidents.  Though judges sometimes stray from their pre-bench political ideologies once they land lifetime appointments, the league surely likes its chances of getting a conservative, pro-business panel.

Initially, three judges (from the active and senior status) randomly will be assigned to the case.  Persuading two of them will deliver a win.

The losing party then can file a petition for the case to be heard again before all of the active judges, and any senior status judges that served on the original three-judge panel.  Those requests aren’t granted routinely, but this isn’t a routine case.

While the loose red state/blue state, pro-business/pro-labor composition of the 8th Circuit superficially favors the NFL, the standard that applies on appeal favors the players.  The appeals court won’t be reviewing Judge Nelson’s work from scratch.  Instead, the decision will be upheld unless the appeals court determines that Judge Nelson abused her discretion.

The 89-page written ruling seems was expertly crafted to avoid a finding that Judge Nelson acted unreasonably.  Even if at least two of the three judges assigned to the case are inclined to conclude that the decertification of the union was a sham or that the courts must defer to the NLRB or that the Norris-LaGuardia Act prevents a court from enjoining a lockout, Judge Nelson’s reliance on past cases from the 8th Circuit supporting the idea that a so-called “preliminary injunction” can be obtained even if the likelihood of winning the case is lower than 50 percent, the question of whether the appellate judges believe the decertification of the union is valid doesn’t matter.  All that matters for now is whether the players have shown that they have a “fair chance of prevailing” at trial, a standard used most recently by the 8th Circuit in a case decided in 2008. For the purposes of the appeal, the judges would be required to find that Judge Nelson abused her discretion in concluding that the players have a “fair chance of prevailing” at trial.

As we explained earlier in the month, it’s similar to the deference that a referee must give to the call on the field during replay review.  Instead of substituting the referee’s judgment for the judgment of the official who made the call, the referee must look for evidence demonstrating that the call was clearly wrong.  While Judge Nelson’s decision doesn’t have quite as much leeway, it’s simply not enough for the appeals court to disagree with her interpretation of the law.  To overturn the decision to lift the lockout while the litigation proceeds, the appeals court must believe that the decision amounts to an abuse of the discretion inherent to trial courts.

4.  When will free agency start?

That depends on several factors.  If the NFL fails to finagle a stay, free agency could begin by the end of the week.

With a stay, free agency won’t happen unless and until the appeals court upholds Judge Nelson’s ruling.

Even if the league can’t delay the lifting of the lockout pending appeal, veteran players scheduled for free agency shouldn’t want the process to be rushed.  Truly big money won’t be spent unless teams have had a chance to digest the rules for 2011, to set their budgets, to assess their needs, and to develops specific plans for the players who will be targeted.

As to rookie free agents who aren’t drafted, the players should push for the immediate signing of contracts, so that teams will be able to engage in their annual post-draft land rush for 15-20 undrafted rookies.

 5.  Can players be traded?

In theory, yes.  But the league will ignore that issue until it learns whether a stay will be granted.  If the ruling isn’t stayed, however, the league will have to allow trades.

And the union will push for that to happen immediately, since it will promote the movement of players during the draft, given that draft picks and players would be available as trade compensation.

6.  Will the 2010 rules be used in 2011?

It’s unclear at this point.  Many have assumed that the NFL will simply repeat the 2010 rules, which entailed no salary cap, no salary floor, and six years to unrestricted free agency.

With the players poised to challenge any rules implemented by the teams as a violation of the antitrust laws, the NFL needs to select the rules for 2011 carefully.  If the league goes too far, the league will lose the antitrust lawsuit.  If the league crafts rules narrowly aimed at ensuring competitive balance, the league could win the antitrust lawsuit — and the players would be stuck with a system that entails none of the protections that a union provides.

7.  Will there be a rookie wage scale?

It depends.  The league can impose one, and then the players would challenge it as an antitrust violation.

8.  Will the parties continue to negotiate?

Yes.  Mediation is scheduled to resume on May 16.  The fact that the players won their motion to lift the lockout doesn’t end the case.  The antitrust lawsuit continues, and a settlement of the case would become the next labor deal between the NFL and the players.

Though players like Domonique Foxworth have said that the players never intend to re-form the union, the problem with that approach is that any settlement between the current players and the league wouldn’t be binding on the annual influx of new players, who could challenge any of the rules to which the current players agree as violations of the antitrust laws.

Thus, the only way to reach a long-term labor accord will be to negotiate a new CBA, or to see the litigation to completion, with the league learning via trial and error (and the expenditure of millions in legal fees) what can and can’t be done from an antitrust standpoint.

9.  How long could this take to resolve?

Years.  But once the ruling lifting the lockout is finalized via the appeals process, football would continue until the antitrust case ends, as it did in the 1990s after the union decertified.

10.  What happens to the “lockout insurance” case?

It still moves forward, even if there is no lockout (and thus no reason to use “lockout insurance”).  Judge David Doty found last month that the league violated the CBA but failing to maximize the television revenue.  At a minimum, the players are entitled to any money that the league “left on the table” when negotiating ongoing payments during a lockout instead of getting more money during the years of the deal not affected by a work stoppage.

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49ers turmoil could help get Harbaugh what he wants

Harbaugh Getty Images

The 49ers’ offseason started in rocky fashion, as the tension between coach Jim Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke bubbled over.  The drama became obvious even before the season ended, via the reporting of Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.

As Harbaugh moves toward the fourth of five years of his contract with the team, he hasn’t received a new deal.  Recent turmoil unrelated to the coach but directly arising from several of the team’s players could help Harbaugh get what he wants, for several reasons.

First, the 49ers desperately need some good news right now.  Securing Harbaugh for the long haul would accomplish that.

Of course, that could be bad news for the folks in the front office who reportedly have a hard time getting along with the ultra-competitive Harbaugh.  To the extent that reports of friction between Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke are true, giving Harbaugh the long-term deal he wants could also mean replacing Baalke.

Second, someone bears the blame for draft picks that have been devoted to guys who have gotten into trouble or who have ended up being busts.  Each of the first three men picked by Baalke — linebacker Aldon Smith, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and cornerback Chris Culliver — have found themselves in awkward situations, to say the least.  (Kaepernick has not yet been arrested or charged for whatever it was that happened earlier this month in Miami, and he may never be.)

The fifth-round pick in 2011, guard Daniel Kilgore, also has an arrest this year, for public intoxication.  (This week, the charge was dismissed.)

The first two players selected in 2012 haven’t done anything wrong.  But they also haven’t done anything good.  First-round receiver A.J. Jenkins is long gone, and second-round running back LaMichael James has landed on the trading block.

It’s not publicly known whether Harbaugh supported or opposed any of those selections.  He could bear some of the same blame as Baalke.  Harbaugh likewise could be basking in vindication as to one or more of the players that Baalke wanted but Harbaugh perhaps didn’t.

Regardless, Baalke had the final say, which means that Baalke gets the bulk of the blame.  Which makes Harbaugh look better in comparison and could nudge the organization between giving him the money he wants and hiring a G.M. who will work in conjunction with Harbaugh to find players who will produce at a high level and stay out of trouble.

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Report: Arbitrator rules DeSean Jackson owes Drew Rosenhaus over $500,000

DeSean Jackson, Corey Webster AP

New Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson will have to allocate some of the money from his new contract with Washington to pay off a debt to his former representation.

According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, an arbitrator ruled Tuesday that Jackson owes $516,415 in back loans and fees to agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Rosenhaus filed the grievance against Jackson with the NFL Players Association last June after he was dropped by Jackson. The grievance claimed Jackson owed Rosenhaus more than $700,000 in loans and fees from his tenure representing Jackson.

Jackson intends on appealing the decision by the arbitrator. He is now represented by Joel Segal, who negotiated Jackson’s new contract in Washington.

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Jaguars re-sign WR Mike Brown

San Diego Chargers v Jacksonville Jaguars Getty Images

The Jaguars have re-signed wide receiver Mike Brown, an exclusive rights free agent, according to the NFL’s Wednesday transactions.

Brown was third on the Jaguars in receiving yards (446) and fourth in catches (32) in 2013. He also hauled in two touchdown passes. Brown appeared in 11 games, starting six.

A third-year pro, Brown (5-10, 200) played quarterback at Liberty. The Jaguars signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and moved him to wide receiver. The 24-year-old Brown was added to the Jaguars’ roster late in his rookie season, and in his second NFL campaign, he was Jacksonville’s fourth-most targeted player on offense, with 56 passes thrown his way.

Brown is one of 12 wide receivers on the Jaguars’ roster — a count that does not include Justin Blackmon, who will have to be reinstated after his November 2013 suspension.

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Judge Brody has not rejected concussion settlement a second time, yet

Gavel AP

A document that appeared on the federal court docket in Philadelphia on Wednesday but that was misunderstood by the media resulted in a flurry of headlines proclaiming that Judge Anita Brody has rejected the proposed settlement in the concussion lawsuit a second time.

She hasn’t.  (Yet.)

The document, we’re told, merely reflected internal court housekeeping and not a new decision that an attempt to change Judge Brody’s mind has failed.

Of course, that could still happen.  Judge Brody could decide that the second attempt by the lawyers to persuade her to give preliminary approval to the settlement fails to alleviate her concerns.  It hasn’t happened yet, however.

Judge Brody rejected the settlement primarily due to her concern that the $675 million compensation fund created by the $765 million settlement won’t last long enough to satisfy all potential claims.  The easy solution would be for the NFL to guarantee that, if the money runs out at some point in the future, the NFL will replenish the pot as needed.  If, after all, the NFL has a high degree of confidence that the funds will last, the NFL should have no qualms about satisfying any deficit.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs continue to wait.  It’s been nearly eight months since the deal was negotiated, and the settlement process likely will consume another eight months, or more.  They agreed to settle the case in part because it meant that much-needed funds would be made available to them sooner rather than later.

Sooner quickly has become later.  And it likely will be a lot later until the settlement is resolved.

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Report: 49ers “shopping” LaMichael James

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The 49ers are reportedly willing to deal a recent second-round pick.

According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, the 49ers are “shopping” reserve tailback LaMichael James.

An Oregon product, the 24-year-old James has attempted just 39 regular season rushes since being drafted in 2012. He returned 23 punts and 12 kickoffs for the Niners last season.

According to the Bee, James has “made it clear” he wants more work at running back; it’s unclear whether that has prompted the 49ers to be open to moving in him in trade. Barrows also suggests James could conceivably be used in a package if the Niners were to move up in the draft.

The 49ers have James, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Jewel Hampton in reserve behind starting tailback Frank Gore. Were James to be moved, the 49ers could look to add another back. As Barrows notes, the 49ers have met with UCF tailback Storm Johnson and will meet with Towson running back Terrance West.

Including James, only three of the Niners’ seven 2012 draft picks remain with the club, with first-round pick A.J. Jenkins shipped to Kansas City after just one season.

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Dollars suggest Chris Johnson won’t be a role player

CJ AP

On the surface, it’s easy to assume that Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson will share the load in the New York backfield.  The numbers suggest strongly that Johnson will be the lead dog.

Johnson will earn $4 million in 2014.  Ivory will earn $1 million.  While that doesn’t mean Johnson will have four times the touches as Ivory, it indicates that Johnson has greater value — and in turn that he’ll have the greater role.

Also in the mix is Bilal Powell, who has a base salary of $1.4 million this year.  Mike Goodson remains on the books for another $1 million, but he’s likely the odd man out given the arrival of Johnson.

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Sidney Rice returns to the Seahawks

Sidney Rice AP

It’s been a good week for receiver Sidney Rice.

On Monday, he received clearance to return to football activities from Dr. James Andrews.  On Wednesday, he agreed to terms to return to the team that cut him earlier this year, the Seattle Seahawks.

Rice broke the news himself on Twitter.  Per a league source, it’s a one-year deal.  We’re told the deal pays more than the veteran minimum, but the specific amount isn’t currently known.

The move comes less than three years after Rice signed a long-term deal that was due to pay him $8.5 million this year.  He’ll undoubtedly make much less than that.

The Seahawks had remained interested in bringing back Rice.  News of a visit to the Jets may have been the nudge that the Seahawks needed to close the deal.

The Giants, Saints, and Panthers all had some interest in Rice.

He appeared in 33 games during three seasons with the Seahawks, with 748 receiving yards in 2012.  Last year, he tore an ACL in late October.

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Dwayne Bowe pays fine, resolves case stemming from pot arrest

Dwayne Bowe AP

Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, who was arrested in November for marijuana possession, has paid a fine and pleaded guilty to amended charges to resolve the matter.

Bowe pleaded guilty today to defective equipment and littering and paid $610 in fines.

“Like others charged with speeding and possessing marijuana for the first time, Mr. Bowe pleaded guilty to amended charges,” city prosecutor Amy Ashefford told the Kansas City Star, adding that Bowe was treated no better or worse than anyone facing similar charges.

Bowe said in January that he thought he was racially profiled, but last week he released a statement saying the police had treated him fairly.

Now the question is how the league office will treat Bowe. A marijuana offense typically results in a one-game suspension, although littering and “defective equipment” may not be enough to get Bowe in any type of trouble. Still, the fact that this case started with a marijuana arrest could result in Bowe being placed in the league’s substance-abuse program.

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RB-needy teams left to focus on the draft

Carlos Hyde

There has been much said about running backs having a tough go of it in free agency, and in case we had forgotten, we were reminded with Chris Johnson taking more than a week to find a new team.

Johnson, who was PFT’s No. 34-ranked free agent, signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Jets on Wednesday. And this was a good deal, given the market this offseason, as colleague Mike Florio pointed out.

In all, it took Johnson nine days from his official release from Tennessee to land a new gig. Contrast this with DeSean Jackson, who had a deal with Washington in three days. And Darrelle Revis had an agreement with New England in but a few hours after his departure from Tampa Bay.

With Johnson signed, there are no starter-caliber tailbacks left in free agency. There are some decent complementary players available, with Michael Bush (ex-Bears) and Ronnie Brown (Chargers) two of the better options left, per Rotoworld’s rankings. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown earned a positive grade as a pass blocker in 2013, but he played just 157 snaps, and he had a negative grade as a rusher, as did Bush, who’s gained less than four yards per carry in each of the last three seasons.

In short, teams needing a running back are probably left to add one in the draft. The Titans, Browns, Jaguars, Bears and Vikings are among the clubs who could use at least one more tailback. However, of these teams, only the Titans may need a starter. The Browns (Ben Tate) and Jaguars (Toby Gerhart) signed young, starter-caliber veterans in free agency, while the Bears (Matt Forte) and Vikings (Adrian Peterson) just need understudies for their established lead backs.

The Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Falcons, Giants, Patriots, Rams, Ravens, Redskins, Steelers and Texans are other teams who seem logical contenders to bring in another back.

The question is, who takes the first tailback in May, and in which round? In his most recent mock draft, Rotoworld’s Josh Norris has no backs going in Round One. Also, NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki has just one back – Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde — listed as a potential first-round selection.

In an offseason that won’t be remembered as an especially glorious one for the running backs of the world, the draft looms as the final act. Not getting any stage time on the draft’s first night would be another low point.

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Busy day for Jets, with Sidney Rice visiting

Sidney Rice Pic Getty Images

On the same day the Jets added a home-run threat to their running game, they’re looking for more help for their passing attack.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, former Seahawks wideout Sidney Rice is visiting with the Jets today.

The Jets will want a look at his surgically repaired knee, as he was just cleared by Dr. James Andrews following his October ACL tear.

When well, Rice has been a good downfield threat (averaging better than 15.0 yards per catch each of the last five seasons).

But staying well has been an issue, as he’s played 16 games in a season twice in seven NFL seasons.

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Police say Sharper’s DNA was found on clothing of one of his accusers

Darren Sharper, Blair Berk, Leonard Levine AP

A Tempe, Arizona police department testified Wednesday that ex-NFL safety Darren Sharper’s DNA was found on the clothing of one of the two women accusing him of drugging and sexually assaulting them.

The Associated Press reports that the testimony came at a hearing in Tempe on Wednesday that saw Sharper’s lawyers challenge the evidence authorities are using as a basis to keep Sharper in jail without bail. Sharper is accused of drugging three women and sexually assaulting two of them last November.

Detective Kevin Mace testified that Sharper’s DNA was found on the clothing of one of the women he’s accused of assaulting, but none was found on the other woman. Mace also testified that Sharper had a prescription for the sedative zolpidem and that a police search of the apartment of one of the women turned up a shot glass with zolpidem residue. 

Sharper also faces charges along similar lines in California and Louisiana with the possibility of more to follow in other states. He was granted bail in California, but will remain in jail in Arizona pending a decision on his bail. The hearing will continue on Thursday.

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Reports: Victor Hampton arrested after altercation with his sister

victorhampton

Former South Carolina cornerback Victor Hampton, a prospect in next month’s NFL draft, was in the news this week when it was reported that he was wanted for questioning in connection with an attack on a man in a New York City nightclub. But that’s not the only incident that has Hampton in the news.

Media outlets in South Carolina are reporting that Hampton has also been arrested and is facing a charge of disorderly conduct after an altercation with his sister.

Local TV station WLTX is reporting that the incident happened at a home in Columbia, South Carolina, on April 6. According to the report, Hampton and his sister, Victoria, got into an argument, police were called, and the two continued to fight even as police tried to separate them. Eventually, both Victor and Victoria were arrested.

Local TV station WIS obtained the police report, in which the arresting officer says the brother and sister wouldn’t stop fighting as both police and their mother attempted to break them up.

“I asked both subjects to stop yelling and they would stop for a second then start right back yelling, threatening each other, calling each other obscene names, using fighting words and stances,” reads the report.

Although he had a year of NCAA eligibility remaining, Hampton left school early to enter the NFL draft. He was viewed as a mid-round pick, but off-field issues will likely have a negative impact on his draft stock.

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Chris Johnson: I want to prove the doubters wrong

New York Jets v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

The Jets landed running back Chris Johnson on Wednesday, ending a brief free agent stint that didn’t feature overwhelming interest around the league in Johnson’s services.

Johnson spoke to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean after signing his contract and he had some of those teams on his mind when discussing his plans for the upcoming season. Johnson said he’s going to draw motivation from those who think he doesn’t have the same spark he had when he was running for more than 2,000 yards for the Titans.

“I have a fresh start. Now I am going to go out there with a chip on my shoulder,” Johnson said. “I know a lot of people are doubting me. I want to prove everybody wrong who has doubts in me. I am very excited about [joining the Jets]. It’s a team on the rise and I want to make them better. … I still have it.”

Johnson joins Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson in the Jets backfield at the moment, although there’s a good chance they’ll part ways with Goodson now that Johnson is in the fold. How things will shake out in terms of playing time remains to be seen, but he new Jet said he’s already spoken to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg about the different ways he’ll be used in 2014.

“I think I’m going to fit in pretty well,” Johnson said, via the team’s website. “Just talking to him and to Rex, who’s a guy that likes to run the ball, I think I’m going to fit in very well. We talked about all those things, catching out of the backfield, getting the ball to me in space.”

Johnson had 42 catches last season, one fewer than Jets team leader Jeremy Kerley, and his four receiving touchdowns were as many as Jets leader Jeff Cumberland, which underscores the need for more offensive talent on the roster. The Jets have added that in Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker. With more likely to come in the draft, the Jets will look a lot different offensively than they did last season and that’s a step in the right direction.

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Saints bring former center Jonathan Goodwin in for visit

Divisional Playoffs - New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Saints lost center Brian de la Puente in free agency, so they need to find a replacement.

They might be turning to the guy de la Puente replaced.

According to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, the Saints brought veteran center Jonathan Goodwin in for a visit today, making a reunion possible.

Goodwin was made expendable when the 49ers chose to extend Daniel Kilgore this offseason, and let the 35-year-old hit the market after three years as the starter.

They have some other internal options, but the team might want some experience in the middle given the all-in approach they’ve taken this offseason.

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Chris Johnson’s two-year deal has base value of $8 million

chris-johnson Getty Images

At a time when the running back market had maxed out at $3.5 million per year, Chris Johnson has nudged the bar a little higher.

Per a league source, the two-year contract signed by the new Jets running back has a base value of $8 million.  Another $1 million is available in incentives based on yardage.

Given Johnson’s late entry to the market and the ongoing devaluation of the tailback position, it’s a very good deal for Johnson.  It’s also a good deal for the Jets.  Criticized for not closing the deal with Donald Brown early in free agency, they got a much better player for not much more money than Brown received in San Diego.

So now the Jets have Chris Johnson and Mike Vick on the roster.  A couple of years ago, that would have made them Super Bowl contenders.  For now, it’s enough to make a team that was 8-8 without those two players a serious threat to bump one of the 2013 wild-card teams to the curb.

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