Monday, March 28, 2011

Article: New Lawsuit Against NFL Could Force Return to Negotiations

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports is reporting a new lawsuit against the NFL, this one filed by retired players, that he thinks could be a game-changer in the ongoing legal battle between the league and the players.
Eller v. NFL, obtained by Yahoo! Sports, is similar to the current Brady, et al v. NFL. However, it is based on a potentially clever legal maneuver that could box the league into a corner and prove a significant development in ending pro football’s nearly month-long labor impasse.

The former players’ suit also covers draft-eligible prospects, who aren’t represented by the NFL Players Association under the previous collective bargaining agreement. As such, these plaintiffs could potentially avoid one of the league’s chief counterarguments against the Brady lawsuit – that the union illegally decertified.

The league is basing its legal strategy around the claim that the NFLPA's de-certification is a sham. If that claim is honored in court (a ruling that Adam Schefter doesn't expect until mid-April at the very earliest), the players could be ordered to reconstitute as a union, and the ruling would move from the courts to the National Labor Relations Board. Since the last CBA included stipulations that the NFL could not make the exact "sham" argument that it's making, some experts are calling the NFL's stance an artifice or a stall - basically a sham in itself - and a transparent attempt to shift leverage back to itself.

Eller v. NFL, however, could provide a workaround for the "sham" argument by bringing in a new group - draft-eligible college players - who have nothing to do with the NFLPA until they're drafted. If the court upholds the claim that the lockout is affecting their future as well, the league would have to deal with the ramifications without being able to fault the former union. That would remove one of the owners' main counter-arguments and make it much more profitable to simply work out a deal with the players themselves.

Some quotes from the case's lead attorney, Michael Hausfield:
“These players have an antitrust claim,” Hausfeld said. “They’ve essentially staked the pursuit of a career on being eligible for the NFL.

“The owners have shut down their potential employees through a concerted boycott,” Hausfeld continued. “[The suit is] going to avoid the main thrust of the owners’ defense and their argument that the matter should be settled by the [National Labor Relations Board] not in the courts.”

“How silly is it to have a draft in April and then say, congratulations, you’re locked out?” he asked.

Hausfield apparently has a strong legal reputation. With lawsuits now coming at the NFL from multiple directions, even if some of them are long shots, the league has rising pressure on it at the very least.

The plaintiffs in the case are Carl Eller, Priest Holmes, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, and Ryan Collins.

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