SBD/April 27, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 47: Class Counsel Letter Says Free Agency Should Begin

The Class Counsel for the Brady Plaintiffs yesterday sent out a letter to all NFL players, stating that the NFL must comply with the lockout being lifted, and players who are not under contract can negotiate and sign with NFL clubs. "Unless and until Judge Nelson or the Court of Appeals issues another order, the lockout has been ordered to end immediately, and if the NFL does not comply, it would be in contempt of the court order," said the letter, which was sent to NFL players and player agents yesterday and signed by James Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler, counsel to the players in the Brady v. NFL case. The letter explained U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson's order in a Q&A format and gave guidance for how NFL players and agents should proceed until there is another order, including for players who are and players who are not under contract to NFL clubs. "If you are under contract and you choose to go to the team’s facility, class counsel believes that the club must allow you access to the facility and staff or the club will be in violation of Judge Nelson’s order," the letter stated. "Please inform class counsel immediately if you have any problems from your club with access to the facility and/or staff," it said. For players that are free agents or not under contract, the letter said, "Class Counsel believes that you and your agent can contact teams and shop your services to the clubs. Judge Nelson’s order is in effect as of 6 p.m. EDT on April 25, 2011, and unless and until that order is stayed, the clubs are not allowed to refuse to negotiate with you" (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

Rosenhaus says teams are telling him that
they can only talk to agents about players
TIME TO SIGN
: Multiple NFL agents told SportsBusiness Journal that they were attempting to talk to execs at NFL clubs to negotiate NFL contracts for their free agent clients and other clients who are not under contract. "I am calling teams on behalf of my free agents & working them as normal," said agent Drew Rosenhaus in a text-message interview. Asked if teams were responding, Rosenhaus said, "Can't comment on their reaction…Don't want to get anyone in trouble. I'm sensing that free agency is on the verge of starting and my adrenaline is pumping with that possibility," he said. Other agents, who requested anonymity, said yesterday they were trying to contact teams about signing free agents and not having much success. Asked if free agency had started, one said, "From our side it has. From their side it hasn't." Another said he was "getting delayed" in talking with clubs about free agent signings, adding that club officials were "Not really talking ... not sure what they can do" (Mullen). Rosenhaus said, "I want to get these deals done. The lockout's over." The teams are taking his calls "but they're telling me, 'Drew, we're not allowed to negotiate with you, we can't talk to you about veterans, we can talk to you about rookies and that's it'" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 4/26). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reports the NFLPA's letter "seems to be laying the foundation ... for perhaps a collusion case." La Canfora: "I spoke to several agents who contacted teams and they say no one has taken their calls to this point. Of course from a league perspective, the feeling is there are no rules to operate with yet and the league is obviously waiting for further clarification from the judge and a decision on the stay to decide whether the league year will open" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 4/26).

FREE AGENCY BEFORE DRAFT? NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash told reporters on a conference call yesterday he "just didn't know" if NFL free agency could begin before the NFL Draft on Thursday. In a lengthy conference call, he said the league was seeking guidance from Nelson on a number of issues. "I think both sides need to have clarity as to what the court’s order is, whether a stay is in effect and the like," Pash said. Asked whether the injunction against the lockout meant the new league year, which historically heralds in the free agent signing season, had begun, Pash said, "We have not asked Judge Nelson to determine when the new league year will begin. That is something we will have to decide once we have an understanding of the scope of the order and the status of any motions for stay pending appeal." One reporter asked if it was possible that the new league year could begin, and then end after a two- or three-day period. Pash said, "The point you’re making, I think, is a very powerful reason for getting a stay because what it suggests -- whether it's 48 hours, or 72 hours, or three weeks, whatever -- that you can well find yourself in a situation where a team and players have made decisions and taken actions that are very difficult to undo" (Mullen).

SORTING IT OUT
: On Long Island, Bob Glauber reports NFLPA attorney Mark Levin "told unsigned players they should solicit free-agency offers." But since the league "hasn't issued rules governing free agency, it is not considered feasible to sign players" (NEWSDAY, 4/27). Meanwhile, Cowboys COO, Exec VP & Dir of Player Personnel Stephen Jones said that if the NFL were to announce that free agency has begun, the team "will be ready to move even if the draft is upon them." Jones: "If it were to start tomorrow, we'd be ready to go. We certainly wouldn't sit on our hands and say we've got to draft before we start" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 4/27).

UNDRAFTED PLAYERS IN A LURCH: SI.com's Don Banks wrote "of all the people affected by the NFL's offseason of turmoil, nobody's future is more in limbo than the hundreds of players who normally enter the league via the collegiate free-agent route." There will be "no jockeying for collegiate free agents unless the league is ordered by the courts to resume pre-lockout rules as soon as this weekend," meaning that undrafted prospects "might wind up being one of the more obvious casualties of this year's labor battle." Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik said, "It's going to be tough on those 300 to 400 kids that aren't going to have a contract when the draft ends. ... It's going to be a different process at the end of the draft. A different feeling." Banks noted last year "more than 480 undrafted players reportedly were either signed by NFL teams or brought in for a post-draft tryout, compared to the 255 prospects who heard their name called in the seven rounds of the 2010 draft." Multiple league execs speculated that "without the traditional collegiate free-agent signing spree to conclude draft weekend, trade activity in the sixth and seventh rounds on Saturday could spike" (SI.com, 4/26). Agent Bruce Tollner: "It'll be quiet. Post-draft, we're accustomed to experiencing a couple hours of serious activity on the phone. ... But this year it's going to be silent" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/27).
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