About 350 National Football League players without contracts moved a step closer to unrestricted free agency Friday when a federal judge ruled that negotiations between the players union and league owners were at an impasse.
The decision by U.S. District Judge David Doty cleared the way for a hearing on a preliminary injunction that would allow the players whose contracts expired in February to make deals for themselves without requiring teams who sign them to part with draft choices as compensation.Under the collective bargaining agreement that expired last year, teams had the right of first refusal before a player can go to another team, and must be compensated if a free agent is signed by another club.
Since the contract expired, the union held the restrictive clause no longer was valid. Management argued that terms of the agreement held while negotiations continued toward a new contract.
"It has become apparent that neither party will move," Doty said, noting that the two sides have met more than 30 times without reaching agreement.
The judge cautioned that the ruling should not be interpreted as a victory for either players or management.
An injunction would enable players without contracts to sign with any team they choose. Doty said he would rule on the request for an injunction before four NFL teams open training camps July 10.