EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The wildest week in NFL history had one more twist at the end and it means football is off limits again.
The NFL locked out its players Friday night after its first legal victory in the fight with the players over the future of the $9 billion business.
The players who showed up smiling and relieved to be back at work Friday morning are now cooling their heels. The ups and downs of the day — and the weeks and months of this labor dispute — may be taking their toll with the first preseason game little more than three months away.
“It’s crazy and it’s really, really making it difficult to plan,” Bengals quarterback Jordan Palmer said. “It’s just really hectic. Everybody I’ve talked to is very thrown off by the situation.”
Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski vented on Twitter: “Gosh I just wanna get back to work and play! I feel bad for our fans having to put up with this.”
The day began with dozens, if not hundreds, of players reporting to team facilities all over the league. They met with coaches, picked up playbooks and went through workouts for the first time since they were locked out after talks for a new collective bargaining agreement broke down March 11.
“From the players’ standpoint I think everybody is pleased we’re not locked out anymore, especially the rookies,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said on CNBC in his first public comments about the dispute since he became a plaintiff in the still-pending federal antitrust lawsuit filed against the owners.
Not so fast, Tom.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s order lifting the 45-day lockout on Monday was temporarily stayed by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. The NFL made its decision a few hours later.
Teams “have been told that the prior lockout rules are reinstated effective immediately,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press.
Agent Peter Schaffer said he has advised his clients to abide by the court’s ruling.
“You can’t have convenient justice,” Schaffer said. “Whatever the ruling of the day is, it must be followed. So I have told my players to stay away from the facilities.”
The appeals court is expected to rule next week on the NFL’s request for a more permanent stay that would last through its appeal of Nelson’s injunction, a process expected to take 6-8 weeks.
“Nobody’s happy about any of this,” Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. “But it is what it is. The lockout is back into effect.”
Teams had announced plans for organized practices and camps as early as next week, but those have again been put on hold.
“Chaotic,” Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian wrote on Twitter. “I dunno where to go.”
Coaches and general managers scrambled to bring their first-round picks in on Friday during what proved to be a brief window of time. They started to give the youngsters crash courses in what they wanted them to work on in the event that the lockout does drag on into the summer.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said teams had no choice but to “go with the flow.”
“It was good to see the players today, great to see some of those guys, and wish it would have lasted a little longer,” Ireland said.
The NFL’s victory came in a venue considered more favorable to businesses than the federal courts in Minnesota, though it was a narrow one. The 2-1 decision from a panel of the 8th Circuit included a lengthy dissent from Judge Kermit Bye, who suggested temporary stays should be issued only in emergencies.
“The NFL has not persuaded me this is the type of emergency situation which justifies the grant of a temporary stay,” Bye wrote.
Jim Quinn, the lead attorney for the players, downplayed Friday’s order and was heartened by the dissent.
“Routine grant of stay and totally expected,” he said. “The only surprise is that Judge Bye is so strongly against giving them even a tiny stay because the league obviously can’t show it is necessary.”
Agents were concerned with how undrafted rookies will find work with teams unable to sign free agents after the draft concludes on Saturday.
“The owners will create a huge injustice to their own GMs and personnel departments if they don’t allow the signing of undrafted free agents,” said agent Joe Linta, whose clients include Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. “They may not care about the players, but they should at least help their own scouts, coaches and personnel people who have worked so hard in the scouting process.”
The volatile atmosphere is rocking a league that thrives on routine and stability, and it doesn’t figure to settle down soon.
“It seems like you hear something different almost hourly,” Lions defensive end and player rep Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “This is a difficult situation for everybody involved.”
Attorneys for the players had argued against a stay of Nelson’s order, suggesting that the public and the players, with their short careers, are at far more risk when the business is stalled.
“Professional football is part of the fabric of American life,” the attorneys wrote. “Because the uncontroverted record of evidence shows that the 2011 season could be canceled or significantly curtailed without an injunction in place, a stay may deprive the public of professional football altogether.”
Said Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver: “It’d be great to have everybody back in the building, but the real thing is we’ve got to get back to the negotiating table and get a CBA.”
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