DeMaurice Smith: ‘Football is Back’

NEW YORK — Hours after the NFL instructed its teams to re-open for business while it awaits a court ruling on its request to keep the lockout in place, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith called it “a great day for our country.”

“Football is back, and I think this is a great day,” Smith said after addressing a group of incoming rookies at a pre-draft welcome party Thursday afternoon in Manhattan. “Not only a great day for our players, but a great day for our fans and a great day for our country.”

Smith declined to say whether the steps the league took Thursday were sufficient in light of Judge Susan Nelson’s injunction that ordered the lockout lifted. But attorneys for the players that make up the Brady class in the players’ antitrust suit against the league sent a letter to the 8th Circuit Appellate Court saying they believe they were not.

The letter criticizes the league because, it says, it has obviously prepared post-injunction rules but has “arbitrarily decided not to implement until tomorrow.” The letter says it believes players will suffer “irreparable harm” as a result of the league deciding not to open for business immediately. Presumably, this is a reference to players that could have been traded into better situations during the draft, which begins Thursday night. The most often cited example is Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, who has asked to be traded but cannot until the league announces guidelines for player movement and the start of the 2011-12 league year. The draft would have provided the Eagles the best opportunity to get sufficient value in exchange for Kolb, but as of now the only trades permitted are trades of draft picks, not players.

“A federal judge of these United States issued an injunction and told the NFL to lift a lockout,” Smith said. “The judge ruled that the owners’ lockout was illegal, and we had men who tried to go to work yesterday and were not allowed to do so. We believe that violates the order.”

Earlier Thursday, the NFL issued guidelines for teams on when and how to resume football operations with the lockout lifted. According to a league news release, effective 8 am ET on Friday, players will have access to team facilities, playbooks, game film and coaching staffs. Off-season workout programs such as OTAs and minicamps may begin as well.

The release also says that the league will inform teams, likely Friday, of more plans “with respect to player transactions (such as signings, trades of player contracts, terminations, tryouts, etc.)” and “the timing for the commencement of the 2011 League Year, free agent signings and other customary player transactions.”

The 8th Circuit Court gave the players until 9 am ET on Friday to respond to the league’s request for a stay of Nelson’s injunction pending the NFL’s appeal. The NFL will have until Monday morning to respond to the players’ response. So it appears, unless the court issues some sort of temporary stay Thursday, that the NFL will open for business again Friday — at least for a couple of days. And free agency could start soon as well, though it’s unclear what the NFL’s plan is for that.

“The rules come from the NFL,” Smith said. “We didn’t create this; they did. I’ve seen a lot of memos about how owners were going to get paid during a lockout. I haven’t seen a lot of memos about how we’re going to give fans access to our game. We’ve seen a lot of memos talking about how to keep football from the people. There don’t seem to be a lot of memos about how to bring football back to the people.”

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