This morning the hearing on the players' request for an injunction to end the lockout began in Federal District Court in Minneapolis. Everyone is of course watching Judge Susan Nelson for signs of which way she is leaning. There have been two strong signals so far.
The main event saw attorney David Boies, representing the owners, arguing at great length that the court has no jurisdiction over this matter. That was a stupid argument, given the fact that the Federal courts have been adjudicating NFL labor disputes for the past forty years, and as he was finishing Judge Nelson told him she was annoyed at what he had been saying for that very reason. Why the NFL chose Boies to be their lead attorney despite the fact that he has little real sports law experience is a real puzzle. This is simply not his specialty.
The other revealing moment came when Jeffery Kessler, the lawyer arguing for the players, claimed that the lockout was doing "irreparable harm" to the players and should be ended immediately. Nelson replied that she thought the players had a "strong case" on that point.
These two remarks do not necessarily indicate that Nelson is about to lift the lockout. There remains the concern that doing so would cause the NFL to engage in the very activities (free agency, signing rookies who had been chosen in the draft) that the players allege in their lawsuit are in violation of the Federal antitrust laws. There's no indication yet of how Nelson views that conundrum.
My own best guess (it's nothing more than that) is that she will rule that the union has a right to decertify, and that she will grant the injunction on the grounds that the NFL cannot lock out employees who do not belong to a union. It is also a no-brainer that she will rule that the players have a right under the legal process of discovery to all the financial records they have been seeking from the individual teams.
How she might rule on the main issue of the players' lawsuit -- whether the NFL is in violation of antitrust law -- is a far more open question, but it almost doesn't matter since the suit will never get to that point. My guess again is that she will call both sides in and encourage them to reach a new CBA while she plays the role of a mediator. She may hold off issuing the injunction in order to give herself maximum leverage in those talks. I could also see her creating an arrangement where the owners turn over their financial records to her and she has them examined by an analyst agreeable to both sides who would answer the questions the players have posed about team profits without ever making public the raw numbers. That might make the owners much more comfortable about giving up their records. That could also remove the key stumbling block to a new agreement that would get the NFL back to business again.