The NFL scored a legal victory Friday when the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis threw out a judge's order lifting the NFL lockout, but in a telling sign that negotiations are moving closer to a settlement, no one from the league's side did a touchdown celebration.
Instead, the NFL and the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement that suggested the court ruling was secondary to negotiations that continued at a Manhattan law office and included commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith. They were joined by union president Kevin Mawae, Giants owner John Mara and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
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"While we respect the court's decision, today's ruling does not change our mutual recognition that this matter must be resolved through negotiation," the statement read. "We are committed to our current discussions and reaching a fair agreement that will benefit all parties for years to come, and allow for a full 2011 season."
The timing of the appellate court ruling was surprising, coming at a sensitive time in the negotiations, but the outcome wasn't. The appellate court said U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ignored federal law when she ruled April 25 that the lockout should be lifted because the players would suffer irreparable harm. The 8th Circuit previously put that ruling on hold until Friday's decision, but it left the door open for players to return to federal court in September to re-file their antitrust case.
Although attorneys might talk over the weekend, formal negotiations will resume Monday.
According to an ESPN report, the two sides are close to agreement on the revenue split, but some owners are holding out for right of first refusal on up to three players on rosters. The New York Times reported players want to retain an arbitration system in which final appeals of grievances and other disputes go to Judge Nelson; owners favor a strict arbitration system with no judicial oversight.
"I get the feeling [a new CBA] is almost a fait accompli," one NFL-related source told Newsday. "There will be some muscle-flexing one more time, and then it's over."
However, once agreement is reached, plaintiffs in the antitrust suit must settle that case before the new CBA takes effect. They took part in a conference call Thursday night to learn where negotiations stand. It's possible further negotiations will be necessary to satisfy the interests of all the plaintiffs.