We’ve already summarized the practical impact of the surprise move but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to rule that the lockout may continue while the NFL and the players are supposedly very close to resolving it. Basically, the ruling changes nothing.
The league may continue to lock out the players, and the players may continue to pursue a $12 billion verdict for violation of the antitrust laws.
But there’s an intriguing loophole that, absent a resolution, could make things very complication for the league.
At pages 33 and 34 of the ruling the Eighth Circuit suggests that Judge Nelson could impose an injunction as it relates to players not under contract (i.e., free agents and rookies). To do so, however, Judge Nelson must conduct a hearing at which testimony and other evidence is introduced. This could lead to a ruling that would require the NFL to negotiate with and sign free agents and rookies, despite the existence of the lockout.
This process would unfold over a period of weeks, and it would make a messy situation even messier. As a practical matter, the prospect of a convoluted and costly court proceeding should be enough to dissuade the owners from trying to drop the hammer on the players in the wake of Friday’s ruling.