Federal judge David Doty has made it official: the 130 players who have changed teams since the NFL's new free agency plan took effect six weeks ago won't have to go back to their old teams.
In a decision made public Monday, the Minneapolis-based federal judge denied an injunction filed by the union against the owners' so-called "Plan B."But Doty, who is presiding over the antitrust suit filed by the union at the end of the 24-day strike in 1987, did not specifically validate the new system as a way for the league to satisfy antitrust requirements. He didn't mention that subject at all.
The union claimed, through general counsel Dick Berthelsen, that it didn't expect the injunction to be granted.
"Getting an injunction is like having a game declared a forfeit in the first quarter," he said. "That's how difficult an injunction is. It's a very extraordinary remedy."
"The bottom line is that the system continues," John Jones, spokesman for the NFL Management Council, said.
Doty based his decision on a ruling he made in July 1988, in which he held that outright free agency, which the union is seeking, could hurt competitive balance and "would work a wholesale subversion of the collective bargaining process."
"The court would have to depart from its previous rulings in order to grant plaintiff's motion," Doty wrote. "The court declines to do so."
Under the new system, each team was allowed to protect 37 players, with the others on the roster to become unconditional free agents, regardless of whether they were under contract.
As of Monday, 130 of the 619 unprotected players had changed teams, at an average of 78 percent increase in salary, according to management council figures. Doty's ruling came on a less liberal plan, one that would allow teams to protect 40, 42 or 44 players, depending on their records.
Doty said that more than 1,000 players still were subject to the compensation and right-of-first-refusal stipulations that have bound them to their teams.
The union is seeking free agency for all players at some point in their careers, a fact of which Doty made mention when he wrote:
"The new system is similar in that the majority of NFL players are subject to the same restraints contained in the previous system."