After Judge Nelson refused to grant the league its requested stay on her ruling to lift the lockout, the league has continued to operate as though the lockout were still in place. At risk of being held in contempt, the NFL is conducting business as though the lockout were still in effect. Players are operating as though the league year is open for business. All this happens against the backdrop of the 2011 NFL Draft, which starts tonight at 8 p.m. ET. The big question on everyone's mind is whether or not the league year will open concurrent with the draft. The answer is probably not, but free agency, trades and all the normal offseason business could resume as soon as Monday or Tuesday of next week.
Amidst the chaos, the NFL is approaching the 8th circuit court today to request a stay, two stays actually. One stay is a temporary one while the court decides on appeal, the other is a stay while the court rules on the league's appeal. Both sides are getting briefs to the court as I type this, if not already, and the court is expected to make a decision on the stay by this afternoon.
Teams aren't optimistic that they'll get a stay from the court. According to the Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network, reports that many execs and agents believe that the stay will be denied and the league will have to implement rules and open for business on Monday or Tuesday.
If that's the case, that means no free agency until after the draft. It also means no trades until after the draft, so teams will not be able to deal picks in this year's draft for current players.
Several players that the St. Louis Rams are believed to be interested in acquiring via the trade route, like Giants DT Barry Cofield, would have less chance of getting dealt this year. Teams would have to swap picks in next year's draft - and remember the Rams said that they will not trade their first round pick in the 2012 draft - or current players. The Rams don't have a lot of trade bait on the roster. They could move a wide receiver if they land one in the draft. Teams could also trade their newly acquired picks, or the rights to them, which could make it really interesting.
What teams do in the draft will shape their approach to free agency, usually it's the opposite. Teams made RFA tenders prior to the lockout assuming that the league would operate under 2010 rules, and it looks like that's going to be the case. However, they can still withdraw those RFA offers. So, if the Giants land a defensive tackle, watch for the possibility of pulling their offer to Cofield. Same goes with any team and their unsigned RFAs.
This is going to be an interesting month ahead. The draft is only the first act.