ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 3: Adam Goldberg of the St. Louis Rams addresses the media outside the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Federal Courthouse after the NFL lockout hearing on June 3, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. NFL players and the league met in court today for a federal appeals hearing on the legality of the three-month-old lockout. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Moments ago, the 8th Circuit Court issued a ruling agreeing with NFL owners that the lockout is indeed legal. Their opinion is based on the Norris-LaGuardia Act, saying that the law protects work stoppages happening because of labor disputes. What the hell does this mean and will it impact the ongoing settlement talks?
It also says that no union is required for a labor dispute, and that just because players are pursuing an antitrust action does not remove the notion that this is essentially a labor dispute. All of that ties back to the Norris-LaGuardia reference. The ruling said that Judge Nelson's court should have held an evidentary hearing on the irreparable harm issue, and sent the case back to her court. In short: the antitrust case may proceed, splitting some of the decision between the two sides.
This wasn't unexpected, and the 8th Circuit panel ruled with a 2-1 split, with Judge Kermit Bye again the lone dissenter. However, remember when Bye said that neither side would like the court's decision? Well, though it still favors owners for the most part, it did include a wild card.
The court ruling said that players not under contract, such as rookies and free agents, cannot be locked out. So, can the St. Louis Rams sign Robert Quinn and lock him out? I guess technically that those players could show up at Rams Park and start working with the coaches, but would they thus need to be under contract to do that? If anything, it means that teams can/could workout a deal with free agents or picks and then sign it or wait until the lockout ends. Nothing happens because it goes back to Judge Nelson to decide.
There's another court decision pending. This one from Judge Doty about awarding damages from the television contracts case, i.e. the lockout insurance. Doty could very well issue a remedy giving players a substantial cash award, leveling the playing field. But, that would essentially reset things, giving both sides some incentive to drag out the fight via court.
For now, the most important question is whether or not this threatens the oh-so-close settlement talks happening today in NYC. I guess we'll see, but you have to think that it will not. Those talks are being motivated by the loss of revenue; preseason is worth a billion dollars. Players may not care so much about preseason, but they care about the regular season, when they get their checks, and will want some prep time to play competitive football.
I can't imagine the PR hit the NFL, and all parties within, would take if the talks get scrapped now.