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NFL lockout gets its day in court

By Tricia Escobedo and Chris Welch, CNN
New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees is one of 10 current and prospective NFL players who are seeking an injunction against the NFL lockout.
New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees is one of 10 current and prospective NFL players who are seeking an injunction against the NFL lockout.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Federal judge to consider preliminary injunction against NFL lockout on Wednesday
  • Players, including Drew Brees and Tom Brady, are calling for the lockout to be lifted
  • The heart of the dispute is about how to divide up the NFL's $9 billion revenue
  • Last month, owners and players failed to reach an agreement in talks

St. Paul, Minnesota (CNN) -- A federal judge will hear arguments on Wednesday from lawyers representing current and former NFL players who want the league to lift its lockout and this year's football season to proceed.

Judge Susan Richard Nelson will consider whether to grant a preliminary injunction that would lift the lockout, the result of an ongoing dispute between the NFL owners and the players who have failed to reach an collective bargaining agreement.

It's possible that Nelson will make a decision after Wednesday's hearing at U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota. If she rules in favor of a preliminary injunction, the NFL is likely to appeal. If she rejects the players' motion, the lockout will continue.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and seven other players have filed a lawsuit on behalf of other current and eligible NFL players against the league to halt the lockout, which could affect the start of the 2011-12 season scheduled for September 8.

The players also want a future trial to determine if the NFL lockout is in violation of federal antitrust laws.

Brady v. NFL lawsuit

On Monday, the federal judge agreed to combine Brady v. National Football League with another class action lawsuit, Eller v. NFL, filed in late March by a group primarily made up of retired NFL players.

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That second lawsuit is "potentially more threatening" because the plaintiffs in Eller v. NFL are not bargaining members of the NFL's players union (NFLPA) and the NFL cannot argue that they engaged in bad faith during collective bargaining discussions, according to SI.com's legal analyst Michael McCann.

"The NFLPA may be removed from the picture in Eller v. NFL, a point which would take away a key defense the NFL enjoys in Brady v. NFL," McCann explained.

SI.com analysis of the NFL injunction hearing

Last month, negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA aimed at preventing a work stoppage broke down. The players union decertified itself. By giving up their collective bargain rights, the players could file individual anti-trust suits against the league and the owners. That move set the stage for a lengthy legal battle with owners.

At the time, the NFL accused the union of walking away from "a very good deal on the table."

If the players are locked out from playing in September, it would be the first NFL work stoppage since 1987, with months of labor and legal maneuvering for football fans already confused about how a $9 billion industry lacks enough money to satisfy everyone.

The heart of the issue between the players and the owners is how to divide the league's $9 billion in revenue.

Right now, NFL owners take $1 billion off the top of that revenue stream. After that, the players get about 60%.

The owners say that the current labor deal doesn't take into account the rising costs related to building stadiums and promoting the game. The players argue that the league has not sufficiently opened up its books to prove this.

In addition, the owners also want to increase the season by two games, which the players are against because of the risk of injuries.

While star players earn millions of dollars each year, the median NFL salary is $790,000 and the average career lasts about four years.

A lockout also impacts the league's employees: the receptionists, ticket salespeople, and stadium workers. The New York Jets have announced that they will require all business-side employees to take a one-week unpaid leave each month during any lockout.

The lockout will not stop the NFL draft, which will proceed as scheduled on April 28-30, the league said.

All other regular off-season activity would cease, threatening to delay or cancel the start of the new season.

The teams might approach the draft a bit differently in the midst of a lockout, according to Steve Politi, a sports columnist for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey.

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"Teams might (pick) based on needs rather than the best players available, because who knows when they'll be able to address those needs on the free-agent market," Politi explained.

It is possible for the NFL season to go forward with replacement players -- but analyst Michael McCann says that is not likely:

"Practical and legal hurdles would make doing so extremely unlikely," he explained.

But it's still a possibility.

"The NFL might argue that if NFL players won't accept the league's best CBA (collective bargaining agreement) offer, the league has no choice but to resume games with other players who are willing to play," he added.

CNN's Tricia Escobedo reported from Atlanta and Chris Welch reported from St. Paul. Steve Politi, a sports columnist for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

 
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