We’re going to give you the most simple version of this story, so please stay with us. Yesterday afternoon, a judge in Minnesota sent shockwaves throughout the NFL landscape. Judge Nelson ruled that the Owner imposed NFL Lockout violated anti-trust laws because it caused irreparable harm to the players. She issued an 89 page document which specified the nature and thoughts behind her ruling. She made it as ‘appeal proof’ as possible. In those 89 pages, it is very important to note that Judge Nelson did not specify that the Lockout could ‘stay’ in place until the Owners appeal could be heard by the 8th Circuit Court. If a ‘stay’ is in place, the Lockout will continue until the appeal is ruled on and the black-hole of NFL free agency and trades will continue.
If the ‘stay’ is not in place, chaos is likely to ensue, unless rules/guidelines for the NFL season are put in place. You see, there is no Collective Bargaining Agreement to govern the new NFL season right now. There are no franchise tags, restricted free agents, salary caps, etc. It’s lawless chaos if the ‘stay’ is not granted. One beat reporter (Omar Kelly) referred to this possibility as the ‘Wild Wild West’. This is truly uncharted territory which you will notice if you try to read anything from anyone covering the story. Everyone has a different opinion on what’s going to happen next. What we CAN do, is break down a few of the possibilities for you, to give you an idea of how things might shake out. We’ll get to that in a second.
So, what does all of this mean to the Miami Dolphins? It means they still don’t know which contingency plan to use yet! As we’ve mentioned before, Jeff Ireland/Tony Sparano have come into this offseason with a few different offseason strategies that rely on how the Labor Mess is resolved. They may use one or a combination of strategies to improve the Dolphins 2011 roster. Here are our thoughts on how things could unfold in the coming week(s) and the possible effects on the Dolphins:
Possibility 1 – Stay is granted
If the ‘stay’ is granted by Judge Nelson tomorrow, the Lockout will continue until the 8th Circuit Court hears the appeal. That decision could take 1-2 months. That means the NFL Draft is the only bit of football Dolphins’ fans will have between now and then. The Dolphins will likely sit back and continue to monitor the Dolphins player-only practices that have been ongoing. They’ve probably already had vague discussions with potential free agents to gauge their interest in coming to Miami. They’ll never admit it, but they probably have (i.e. mutual interest with DeAngelo Williams). If the judges in the 8th Circuit Court uphold Nelson’s ruling, the Lockout is lifted and the players can return to their facilities. A new CBA would be determined by the court system unless the Players/Owners can agree to one first. This scenario will mean football is played in 2011. If the 8th Circuit Court rejects Nelson’s ruling, the Lockout could go on for months, possibly resulting in missed games.
Possibility 2 – Stay not granted
If Judge Nelson decides that the Lockout is already causing harm to the players, she may deny the Owners request for the ‘stay’. This is where it gets very tricky because Nelson did not outline the rules/regulations by which the NFL should operate. Unless something changes, the NFL could change dramatically. The Dolphins could, in theory, sign any available player they wanted to (Peyton Manning and DeAngelo Williams are free agents!). This is unlikely because many owners would not be willing to open up their checkbooks for players that they are fighting against in court. If owners refuse to sign players, however, they could face collusion charges. This would be interesting because no one has any idea what would happen…it would be chaos.
The most common situation we’ve heard is that the NFL would adopt the rules from last year. This is NOT necessarily good news for the Dolphins….especially fans like us that would like to see DeAngelo Williams in Miami next year. If the NFL adopts the 2010 rules, players will not be eligible for unrestricted free agency until they have 6 years of NFL experience. This means Williams would be restricted and would likely return to the Carolina Panthers. For the Dolphins it would also mean that Tyler Thigpen would be back in Miami. It means there would be slim pickings on the NFL Free Agency list for the Dolphins to improve their roster.
So what about the Draft? If Judge Nelson denies the ‘stay’, it will basically mean that she’s ordering the NFL to open for business. It could take a day…or a week for the new league year to start. Why? Because no one knows what the rules for 2011 will be! Sorry for the redundancy. If it happens quickly (by Thursday) there is the possibility that trades involving players will be allowed before/during the NFL Draft. Needless to say, this could have a drastic effect on how the Draft plays out.
Unfortunately, in the most inactive NFL offseason, we’re forced to wait a little longer before knowing what the game we love will look like in 2011. By the time September comes, will it have been worth the wait? If Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano do their job this offseason it should be for the Dolphins.
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