MINNEAPOLIS — Finally, the NFL is getting back to football.
Five days after a federal judge declared the lockout was illegal and nearly seven weeks after it began, the NFL said players can talk with coaches, work out at team headquarters and look at their playbooks.
The NFL said all of that can begin Friday, when it is also expected to release detailed guidelines for free agency, trades and other roster moves in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement.
“That’s great news,” said linebacker Joe Mays, one of 10 Denver Broncos players who showed up at the team’s headquarters Thursday. “It’s something we’ve been trying to do, get back to work.”
It was a welcome step forward on a day members of the Tennessee Titans showed up to find two armed security guards at their locked-up facility, no sign of their new coach. New players in particular will benefit from the new guidelines.
“These rookies, there’s a lot going on for them,” New York Giants center Shaun O’Hara said. “So any info they can get, any things they can study, is good. If the lockout happens again, they’ll have plenty to study from their teams.”
That’s certainly what the NFL wants.
The league has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout as soon as possible. The court is considered a friendlier venue for businesses than the federal courts in Minnesota.
The NFL wants an immediate stay of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision on Monday to lift the 45-day lockout so it can argue that it should be overturned altogether. The players were told to respond to the league’s motion for a stay by midday Friday, and the NFL’s reply to that is due on Monday morning.
Michael Gans, the appeals court clerk, said a three-judge panel for the appeal had not been set.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he feared the fight could last for a while.
“I think the litigation, unfortunately, could go on for some period of time,” he told the NFL Network. He said he was looking forward to the next round of court-ordered talks on May 16.
“I think that it’s important to get back to that,” he said. “That’s the type of thing that should happen — real bargaining across the table.”
Goodell, who penned an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal this week suggesting Nelson’s ruling could “endanger” the league if it is upheld on appeal, conceded the legal fight was weighing on him.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We have so much potential. Our game is in such a great place.”
At least now, four days after Nelson lifted the lockout, there are guidelines to follow.
Mandatory minicamps and voluntary offseason practices can begin under rules of the collective bargaining agreement that expired March 11. Team-supervised workouts will count toward bonuses in player contracts, and players can also work out on their own at team facilities if they have health insurance in place.
The league will arrange for substance abuse and steroid programs to resume, and players can participate in team-sponsored community and charity functions.
Agent Angelo Wright said he has told players under contract not to worry about visiting headquarters this weekend out of fairness to the teams so they can focus on the draft. He said they should plan to show up on Monday, and said he’d start calling team executives about unsigned players as soon as Sunday night.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus said he’d like for signings and trades to take place during the draft, which runs through Saturday.
“I’ve been calling teams, and I’ve been told they’ve been advised by the NFL to hold off on signings or trades until further notice,” Rosenhaus said.
Attorneys for the players said the decision to lift the lockout “is in full, immediate force.”
“It is our view that the NFL and the clubs will be in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order,” lawyers James Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler wrote in a memo to players.
Quinn, in a tersely worded letter to NFL attorney Gregg Levy, said the players were tired of waiting and even accused the league of “granting itself a temporary stay” of Nelson’s order when doors didn’t open right away for football activities.
“I guess if you’re a billionaire, you can tell a judge no,” said Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who was at a charity event in Ann Arbor, Mich.
In its 23-page motion, the league reiterated three arguments it unsuccessfully made to Nelson: that she had no jurisdiction while a bad-faith negotiation charge against the players is pending with the National Labor Relations Board; that federal law prevents the court from overseeing cases stemming from labor disputes; and that it shouldn’t be subject to antitrust claims with the CBA barely expired.
Now the fight will be taken up by the 8th Circuit. The league even proposed a timeline: a written opening argument due May 10, the same due for the players May 24, the NFL’s reply due May 31 and a hearing after that “as soon as possible.”
That would stretch the legal fight well into June, a month before training camps and only weeks before the first scheduled preseason game on Aug. 8.
Tony Richardson, a 17-year veteran and a free agent, said there was still uncertainty.
“It’s still a situation where guys cannot be sure what’s next, but I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.
Added Mays: “Everybody’s tired of sitting around, laying around. We’ve had enough of that. Now, we’re trying to get back to business.”
AP Football Writers Arnie Stapleton and Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers John Wawrow, Teresa M. Walker, R.B. Fallstrom, Steven Wine, Larry Lage and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.