MINNEAPOLIS — Its players again barred from coming to work, the NFL told a federal appeals court Monday it believes the appeal over whether the lockout is legal can "readily be resolved" during the offseason.
The NFL filed a brief with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, arguing that the lockout should remain on hold permanently while the two sides hash things out in court.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court put U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's order lifting the 45-day lockout on hold temporarily last week. The owners reinstated the lockout a few hours later and they want Nelson's order eventually overturned altogether.
In an 18-page brief, the NFL again argued that Nelson shouldn't have jurisdiction in the labor fight. The league's attorneys have repeatedly cited the Norris-LaGuardia Act, a Depression-era law they say bars federal courts from interfering in labor disputes on either side.
They again argued that lifting the lockout would result in the irreparable harm necessary to deserve a stay of Nelson's order.
The absence of a stay "would irreparably harm the NFL by undercutting its labor law rights and irreversibly scrambling the eggs of player-club transactions," the NFL's attorneys wrote. "Absent a stay, there will be trades, player signings, players cut under existing contracts, and a host of other changes in employment relationships" between hundreds of players and the 32 NFL teams.
The filing is the latest salvo in the bitter fight over the $9 billion business.
Hours after NFL players started to pick up playbooks and talk with coaches for the first time in nearly two months on Friday, the lockout was reinstated when the appeals court granted a temporary stay of Nelson's April 25 order.
The appeals court must now decide whether to declare a more permanent stay until the appeals process is completed.
Though the players have argued there is no guarantee that can be wrapped up in time for the regular season, the NFL said the process — thanks to a request for an expedited hearing — is more a matter of weeks than months.
Players have argued their own irreparable harm, which Nelson agreed with, by the postponement or cancellation of free agency, offseason workouts and the like.
The NFL said that's an exaggerated claim. Players, the league said, would not lose their opportunity to play for the team of their choice once the league year begins, even if that's in late June or early July instead of early May. That process usually starts in early March.
The NFL complained that Nelson ignored evidence that many players, including two of the 10 plaintiffs, Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins, skip team-organized workouts in the offseason. Jackson and Mankins both held out well into the start of the 2010 season, the league noted, "indicating that missing time in the offseason is not irreparable harm."
The NFL also cited comments by players Ray Lewis and Wes Walker about their appreciation of extra free time now with the lockout in place and no mandatory minicamps or other offseason activities allowed to take place.
Welker said, "Let's do a lockout every year," according to the league's court filing.
Attorneys for the players argued last week 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."