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The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule Thursday night on the NFL’s request for a temporary stay of a lower court’s order to lift the lockout, paving the way for the beginning of the opening of the NFL’s offseason. The clerk for the 8th Circuit, Michael Gans, e-mailed Thursday night that there would be no order “tonight.” Surely still on the table is a permanent stay, but the earliest the court would rule on that is early next week. It is unclear if the 8th Circuit could still rule on the temporary stay. As the league is not planning to usher in free agency immediately, the court could still rule on Friday and the league would possibly not have the allegedly irreparable harm it claims starting free agency poses if the lower court’s order is later over turned. At 8:00am ET Friday morning, players were able to report to team facilities and work out and meet with coaches. The players’ counsel had asked the 8th Circuit if it would hold off on ruling on the temporary stay until after it files a brief at 1:00pm Friday. The league responded if the court waited that long it was in effect denying the temporary stay (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GO? In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch reports legal experts believe that there is "far from any guarantee the league will get that stay from the appeals court, and indeed, the owners’ entire legal strategy appears to be blowing up in their faces with each withering decision." But if the owners are "reconsidering that strategy, there appeared to be no public sign of second thoughts" (N.Y. POST, 4/29). Also in N.Y., Judy Battista notes the temporary stay, if granted, "would allow the NFL to slam the doors shut again as the appeals court considers a request for a longer stay that would cover the length of the league’s appeal of the injunction decision." The league "has sought to buy time since Nelson issued the injunction Monday evening." The NFL "did not want to have to start free agency during the draft, because that might have allowed player trades during some rounds, but not others." While it would "clearly have preferred not to do so, the NFL said it would probably announce rules governing the business of football -- including when free agent signings and trades could begin -- some time Friday." Teams and agents "were preparing Thursday as if free agency would start on Monday, after the draft ends on Saturday." One agent said that GMs "had told him that they were waiting for a sweeping edict from the league office about what they were allowed to do" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/29).
UNCERTAINTY ABOUT NFL SYSTEM: ESPN.com's John Clayton noted the NFL's decision on which system teams can use in the short term "will be important." For example, the league "could use the 2010 rules, under which free agency can't be obtained until a player has been in the league for six years." If it uses the '10 rules, the NFL "won't have a salary cap," but if it uses the '09 rules, a salary cap could be included. The league also has not revealed "whether players can receive their offseason roster bonuses" (ESPN.com, 4/28). In Minneapolis, Mark Craig notes players "will be paid $130 per day for meeting workout requirements, and such workouts will count toward any offseason workout bonuses a play may have." Players can "work out on their own, but they must prove they have an existing medical insurance policy in place" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 4/29).
Clark says NFL needs to start free agency
STOP WHERE YOU ARE: Titans G & player rep Jake Scott arrived at the team's Baptist Sports Park on Thursday "to find armed security officers in the parking lot and a barricade of portable lockers set up to prevent entry into the weight room." Scott: "I guess we pose a threat. I guess they think we are going to storm the building or something." Scott said that Titans Senior Exec VP & General Counsel Steve Underwood "turned him away, so he headed to Vanderbilt to work out there instead" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 4/29). Scott deemed the security "excessive" in a text message to NFLPA President and former Titans teammate Kevin Mawae, who said that "barricades blocked off the weight room." Mawae: "It might be easier to get into Libya these days" (USA TODAY, 4/29). Also Thursday, Redskins LB Lorenzo Alexander and C Casey Rabach "were turned away" at Redskins Park, while Lions players "were told to come back Monday, and that organized team activities would start Wednesday." In DC, Maske & Shipley note the NFL "told teams to courteously turn away players, maintaining that it could not conduct business without an organized plan" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/29).
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT? Longtime Eagles S Quintin Mikell, currently a free agent, said that he visited the team's NovaCare Training Complex Thursday. Mikell said that he spoke briefly with Eagles GM Howie Roseman, "at more length with new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and even bumped into" head coach Andy Reid in the parking lot. Mikell said he and Reid talked about "everything that's happened, and how nobody knows what's going on." He added, "It was cool. It was a little weird, like a ghost town" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/29). However, on Long Island, Glauber & Rock note it is "uncertain just how many players will return to their facilities." Giants C and player rep Shaun O'Hara said that he is "telling teammates not to show up yet." O'Hara: "If you're in the area and the stay is not granted and you want to go over and work out, great. But don't change your plans. Don't book a flight tonight. Because it may change" (NEWSDAY, 4/29). Agent Angelo Wright said that he "has told clients under contract not to worry about visiting headquarters this weekend out of fairness to the teams so they can focus on the draft." He said that they "should plan to show up on Monday, and said he'd start calling team executives about unsigned players as soon as Sunday night." Agent Drew Rosenhaus, however, said that he would "like for signings and trades to take place during the draft" (ESPN.com, 4/29).
KEEP MOVING THE CHAINS: In N.Y., Steve Serby writes, "Nice to have you back, NFL. Now don't desert us. ... Now that you are back in business, stay back in business. There must be no turning back now." The NFL "cannot let free agency begin -- albeit awkwardly, after the draft -- then stop the music and leave everyone standing in the dark with no chair on which to sit." Fans do not have "any interest in watching" NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith at a press conference, nor do they want to "read an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal" from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Serby: "It must now only be about Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady throwing passes to teammates" (N.Y. POST, 4/29).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upon taking the stage before the start of the NFL Draft Thursday was greeted by "a wave of boos," followed by a chant of "We want football!," according to Dave Wilson of ESPN.com. Goodell "looked up into the balconies" and said, "I hear you. So do I." But the fans "didn't ease up." Goodell later responded on Twitter, saying, "I agree with fans here at Radio City. We want football. I'm with you, I get it." NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said that the commissioner and the league "expected the fans' frustration" (ESPN.com, 4/28). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes Goodell "bore the brunt of the fan fallout" from the labor situation "as he was repeatedly booed by the capacity crowd during pre-draft introductions and as he went to the podium for the first few picks." However, by the time the Falcons traded up to take WR Julio Jones with the No. 6 pick and the Titans made the "stunning pick" of QB Jake Locker at No. 8, Goodell "had been let off the hook -- a little bit" (N.Y. POST, 4/29). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler wrote he was "surprised by the utter venom directed toward" Goodell by the fans. The commissioner before the draft began "came out to hold a moment of silence for the tornado tragedy in the South," but he "couldn't get to that moment for several minutes ... as fans booed him over and over." Goodell "finally asked them to quiet down, and it didn't work at first" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 4/28). Goodell "tried to put a brave face on the wave of anger directed at him during various points of the evening" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/29). ESPN's Mike Greenberg: "He deserved that last night. ... The fans of pro football deserve to have their moment to have their voice be heard" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 4/29). In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tamari writes it was "another rough moment for a commissioner who has come under increasing criticism in recent days as the lockout has grown even more acrimonious and owners have lost a series of court decisions" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/29).
NO HARD FEELINGS: In L.A., Sam Farmer notes after LB Von Miller was selected No. 2 overall by the Broncos, he "walked across the stage and gave Goodell a huge bear hug that lasted several seconds." It was a "somewhat surprising reaction considering Miller is one of the plaintiffs named in the players' antitrust lawsuit against the league." But Miller said, "I've never had anything against Roger Goodell. I just want to make sure football continues to get played. When I walked across the stage, I was meeting the commissioner. That's it" (L.A. TIMES, 4/29). NFL Network's Rich Eisen said of Miller's interaction with Goodell, "For the first time in NFL Draft history, a player suing the league for antitrust is going to shake hands with the man who runs the league and hugs the man who he's suing" ("2011 NFL Draft," NFL Network, 4/28). The AP noted it was "all smiles" as Goodell greeted the selected players, "but not all the current players were happy to see the commissioner getting so much love from the draftees." Packers RB Ryan Grant on Twitter wrote, "It's really baffling for me to see these young guys hugging the commissioner with everyone that has gone on in past months" (AP, 4/28). But ESPN's Cris Carter said the NFL Draft "is the beginning of that dream" to play in the NFL. The drafted players have "earned the right" to shake Goodell's hand, and whatever "excitement you have or however you do it, that's what you should hit him with" ("SportsCenter Special: On the Clock," ESPN, 4/28).
LABOR SITUATION FORCING HAND: In N.Y., Greg Bishop notes four QBs were taken in the first 12 picks of the draft, and that "run of reaching for quarterbacks probably stemmed, in part, from labor uncertainty." Due to the fact that "teams cannot trade players or sign free agents, potential quarterbacks on the move like Kevin Kolb and Matt Hasselbeck remain in limbo." NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said QBs were "going to be elevated because there hasn't been any free agency." Mariucci: "They're the luckiest guys. They're going to get drafted a round higher than they typically would." But Bishop notes "two high-profile quarterbacks," Ryan Mallett and Andy Dalton, were not selected in the first round (N.Y. TIMES, 4/29). One GM said, "In part, it's because we have not had free agency or trades. And you got to have a quarterback. You can't play without them. This just re-emphasizes it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/29). Meanwhile, NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported the fact that the NFL is set to open for business could affect the "signing of undrafted free agents." La Canfora: "People were concerned that those guys, a lot of time could go between the end of the draft and when you get to sign them. Maybe they sign with the Canadian Football League or the UFL. Now you pretty much know that next week those undrafted free agents will probably be hitting the market" ("Total Access Pre-Draft," NFL Network, 4/28).
F1 Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone said that News Corp. Chair & CEO Rupert Murdoch "has a 'close to zero' chance of buying Formula One and talk of a takeover is being driven by the media and advisers seeking to make money," according to Baldwin & Helton of REUTERS. Reports earlier this month indicated that Murdoch's News Corp. was "in the early stages of talks to form a consortium to acquire control" of F1. Murdoch "has made sport a cornerstone of his pay-TV operations and it has also been a prime motivation for many of his deals, and analysts see a logic to his involvement in F1." But Ecclestone said the reports are "media driven." Ecclestone: "It looks very much like someone who is trying to see if they can make (money). All of these people that get involved with these things, they get some victims and say: 'We can make this happen, I'm sure we can do this,' and then all they do is keep pumping fees in" (REUTERS, 4/28).
BAHRAIN DEADLINE APPROACHING: In London, Tom Cary reports Ecclestone Thursday suggested that Sunday's deadline for a final decision on whether or not to run this year's Bahrain Grand Prix "could be extended," only for the FIA to "contradict him." The deadline was "imposed by the FIA last month after the original race date, March 13, was abandoned due to violent civil unrest." Ecclestone: "We need to wait a little bit to see exactly how progress is made. Things can change in a couple of weeks. ... I suppose we'd be safe by early June or something like that." Cary notes Ecclestone's comments "initially appeared to catch the FIA off guard," although a spokesperson later said that he was "not aware of any plans to extend Bahrain's deadline." The spokesperson said, "As far as we are concerned a decision is still due on Sunday. Because it's a weekend it may be Monday morning that we announce the decision, but we haven't spoken to Mr Ecclestone about any delay" (London TELEGRAPH, 4/29).
In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins reports the StarCaps legal case involving Vikings DTs Kevin and Pat Williams "finally is over." The Minnesota Supreme Court "declined to review a Feb. 8 ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals that cleared the way for the NFL to suspend the Williamses for four games for taking a banned diuretic." Pat Williams "had petitioned the Supreme Court to review that decision while Kevin Williams dropped his legal fight in March." The Williamses "face the prospect of starting the 2011 season with a four-game suspension" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 4/29).
NEW ERA OF INDYCAR: In Las Vegas, Jeff Wolf writes it is "time to give IndyCars another chance because few remnants remain from 15 nightmarish years of the Indy Racing League." Izod IndyCar Series races last "about two hours, one fewer" than a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is likely to last. The IndyCar telecast "features split-screen viewing of live action during national commercials, so you rarely miss anything." Also, a "big change this year for IndyCar races has been implementing NASCAR-style double-file restarts instead of spaced-out, single-file fields parading to the green flag," which "has made the first turn a likely spot for carnage, especially on road and street courses like in Brazil" where the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 will take place Sunday (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 4/29).
COMPARE & CONTRAST: ESPN.com's Howard Bryant writes the NBA's labor issues are "deep and important, and they're clearly more vital to the league's immediate future than the arguments roiling the NFL." The "larger question" in the NBA is "whether some form of player rollback is needed." While the focus in the NFL labor dispute has been on Commissioner Roger Goodell's "hard-line stance," whispers in the NBA indicate that Commissioner David Stern is "seeking even greater givebacks from the players than Goodell is" (ESPN.com, 4/29).