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Free agency could begin prior to draft

On Monday, Judge Susan Nelson ruled in favor of the players and ordered the NFL imposed lockout must be lifted, according to NFL.com. This came as little surprise to those close to the situation. What was surprising was that she ruled not to stay the decision with the intention that the NFL be open for business effective immediately.

The league immediately appealed the stay, which was also expected, and the issue now heads to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who will rule on the stay. In the ruling, Judge Nelson wrote an 89-page strongly worded statement to the 8th Circuit Court to convince them to uphold the ruling.

“(T)he public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concessions sales,” Nelson wrote. “And, of course, the public interest represented by the fans of professional football — who have a strong investment in the 2011 season — is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout. In short, this particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation.”

It is very possible that the ruling could come down in the next few days. If the Circuit Court finds in favor of the players, the league year would begin immediately, and free agency would start along with it.

All of this could happen before the draft and that would mean some hot stove activity the likes of which could keep even the most casual NFL fan glued to the news wires.

Teams are desperate to find out who they can get as a free agent and who they will lose, as it will shape their draft plans. In years past, teams have had nearly two months to work out those things. Now, if events happen quickly, they could have just a matter of hours.

The Raiders are in a difficult situation, mainly because of Nnamdi Asomugha. If the lockout lasts past the draft, they will have less rabid competition for Nnamdi’s services. If it gets lifted this week, someone is going to break the bank for him and you can bet it won’t be the Raiders.

The situation was actually a good one for the Raiders in regards to Nnamdi. Teams in most desperate need of a corner would take one in the draft and therefore be less likely to be major suitors for him. It would effectively eliminate much of the competition. But at this moment, the Raiders will have half the league pulling Brinks trucks up to Nnamdi’s door. It could get messy and the only real winner in the end will be Nnamdi himself.

On the other hand, the Raiders will be able to actively seek out players to fill some of their need areas and they would also be able to head into the draft with a better idea of who they need to choose.

All teams would be able to include active players in draft trades as opposed to just picks for picks. That means a lot more flexibility in the trades. After all, if the Raiders couldn’t trade players for picks and vice versa last year, they probably wouldn’t have Jason Campbell, Quentin Groves, Kamerion Wimbley, and Jacoby Ford (acquired when the Raiders sent Kirk Morrison to Jacksonville to move up into the fourth round). So clearly the Raiders have set forth to build a team through draft trades.

As for right at this moment, the players will have access to team facilities. The NFL has informed each team to allow players into the complex. Zach Miller told Jerry McDonald this in an email:

“I have told my guys that they are free to go back to work,” Miller said. “Any player that chooses to should be allowed to go into the facility tomorrow.”

I couldn’t imagine Al Davis denying the players access if there were any question about it anyway. Al loves his team and his players and would like nothing more than for them to be at the facility preparing for next season.

So while this doesn’t mean the issue is resolved, it looks as if it WILL be resolved prior to training camp.

Which means football looks like it will be back without delay. Halle-frikkin-lujah.

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