Welcome to Niners Nation After Dark where the party is going to get pretty wild over the next few days. The NFL Draft kicks off later this evening, which means we finally get to figure out who Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke actually like in this year's draft, and who might have been a smoke screen all along. And yet, even as that excitement develops, the labor dispute remains at the forefront as the NFL could be on the verge of chaos.
On Monday afternoon, Judge Susan Nelson sided with the players and ordered an injunction to end the NFL Lockout. The NFL immediately filed a motion for a stay of the injunction pending their appeal of her decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Nelson denied the stay, leaving the NFL urgently pursuing an emergency stay by the appellate court. In their appeal, the NFL is asking for 1) an expedited appeal, 2) a stay of the injunction until the appeal, and 3) a stay of the injunction until number 2 is decided.
In denying the stay, Judge Nelson ordered the NFL to begin their new league year, but also stated that her decision did not obligate the NFL to enter into any contract with the players. As Andrew Brandt stated in his latest rundown of the labor dispute, this truly is a unique and unprecedented time in NFL history.
The appellate court will likely take up to a week to decide whether to grant the emergency stay, which puts us sometime into next week. The issue for this week is suddenly whether free agency can begin and whether trades can happen in advance of or during the coming NFL Draft. If the league decides to continue the lockout, they could be held in contempt of the court order. If they end the lockout but agree to not offer any contracts to players, they would be in violation of antitrust laws.
The key at this point is figuring out potential rules for conduct over the next week, and even beyond that if the stay is not granted. While some folks look to the more conservative nature of many of the appellate judges, the NFL is not exactly doing well in court. They lost their TV revenue case not too long ago in front of Judge Doty, and have now lost twice in front of Judge Nelson. Given what is at stake, they really are facing a fourth down situation late in the game.
It won't take a miracle for the NFL to gain back some ground, but they're definitely in a tough legal situation right now. I was probably exaggerating a bit up top when I referred to this as potential chaos, but given the unprecedented nature of what is occurring, it's difficult for anybody to project where this is moving.