EDEN PRAIRIE, Minnesota—Hours after NFL players reported to work for the first time in nearly two months, the league announced late Friday that the lockout would resume immediately, thanks to an appeals court ruling in the league’s favor.
“Looks like we’re unemployed again,” tweeted Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards, scheduled to become a free agent.
The move capped a chaotic, topsy-turvy week that began with U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson lifting the 45-day lockout on Monday. She denied the NFL’s appeal on Wednesday and the league took halting steps toward getting back to football just after sunrise Friday.
Then the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis granted the NFL’s request for a temporary stay of Nelson’s injunction order. 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 the injunction, a process expected to take 6-8 weeks.
The NFL didn’t have to wait that long to resume the lockout, and the announcement came right after the third round of the NFL draft had ended.
Teams “have been told that the prior lockout rules are reinstated effective immediately,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press.
This all came on the very day players were allowed to return to their teams’ facilities for the first time since March. Players wore big smiles as they met with coaches, worked out and got a peek at their playbooks, a welcome return to normalcy in an offseason that has been anything but that.
“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.”
The appellate ruling came in a venue considered more conservative and favorable to businesses than the federal courts in Minnesota, where the collective bargaining system was established in the early 1990s and judges have generally favored players over the NFL.
The NFL’s victory, its first in this bruising court fight, was a narrow one. The 2-1 decision from a panel of the 8th Circuit was issued by Judges Steven Colloton, Kermit Bye and Duane Benton. It included a lengthy dissent from 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.
Bye said the league hadn’t shown proof it would suffer irreparable harm without a lockout in place and had asked for the stay so it wouldn’t be forced to run its $9 billion business without a collective bargaining agreement in place.
“The NFL claimed such operations would be ‘a complex process that requires time to coordinate,'” Bye wrote.
“This contention is severely undermined by the fact that the NFL had, within a day of the district court’s order denying a stay, already planned post-injunction operations which would allow the players to have access to club and workout facilities, receive playbooks, meet with coaches and so forth.
“Because I expect our court will be resolving the actual request for a stay in short order, I see little practical need for granting an emergency temporary stay in this non-emergency situation.”
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.”
Agent Peter Schaffer said he has advised his clients to abide by the court’s ruling.
“You can’t have convenient justice. Whether you agree or disagree with the judges’ decision, it must be followed,” 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.”
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.”
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said teams had no choice by to “go with the flow.”
“We’ll just go with what the league is telling us,” he said. “It was good to see the players today, great to see some of those guys, and wish it would have lasted a little longer.”
The lockout has hurt teams such as the Browns, preventing new coach Pat Shurmur and his staff from talking with players for the first time. He met with a handful on Friday before the bad news.
“Because we were allowed to talk and communicate with our players,” he said, “we felt like it was a good few hours.”
AP Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak, Bob Baum, Tom Canavan, Joe Kay, Stephen Hawkins, Janie McCauley, Dennis Waszak, Tom Withers, John Wawrow, Mike Cranston, R.B. Fallstrom, Mark Long and Joseph White and freelancer Warren Mayes in St. Louis contributed to this report.