New England Patriots Links 4/26/11 - NFL Lockout Lifted, Replaced With Confusion

Michael McCann (SI) Sports Law: Players sit in driver's seat with lockout lifted; prepare for games.  Here is one of several points McCann makes as he breaks down the judge's ruling from last night.

2. Should teams sign players and conduct business as usual? Teams would be wise to proceed cautiously until a stay is granted or denied, and until the U.S. Court of Appeals decides on the NFL's appeal. Teams, however, should not act too cautiously, as they might unwittingly commit violations of federal antitrust law by refusing to sign players.

First off, there is uncertainty as to whether the terms of the recently expired CBA control. In a previous case, Powell v. NFL, the Eight Circuit held that an expired CBA between the NFL and NFLPA remained in effect indefinitely, even if in negotiating a new CBA, the NFL and NFLPA were to break off negotiations. Here, however, the NFLPA has decertified and, as Judge Nelson conspicuously notes in her order, "the Players have exercised their right to abandon the collective bargaining framework of labor law in order to pursue individual contracts." For that reason, collectively bargained rules, such as restrictions on free agency or the salary cap, are unlikely to remain in effect. In fact, if teams proceed as if they are, they could run afoul of federal antitrust law (which generally disfavors competitors, such as teams, from conspiring in ways that limit competition, such as restrictions on signing players).

For the time being, therefore, there do not seem to be restrictions on players who are without contracts, including those previously viewed as "restricted free agents," from signing with teams (players already under contract will resume their contracts). Ironically, if teams refuse to sign players because of the uncertainty, they could commit a separate antitrust violation: a group boycott of free agent players.

ESPNBoston highlights Jonathan Kraft's interview with Adam Jones.

Kraft on the team’s overall draft philosophy:

"The last couple of drafts we’ve been able to do a good job of both getting players as well as stockpiling picks. If you have a lot of currency going into a draft and still feel certain about a guy ... Like last year, Devin [McCourty] was our guy. We traded down a couple of times because we understood who was beneath us and we were willing to take a risk based on what we thought their needs were and who they had seen that Devin would still be there and would allow us to [trade down to get him and] stockpile [additional picks].

"We were lucky that Devin was down in New Jersey in a [Rutgers] program that Bill [Belichick] knows well with a head coach that he knows well. And thus he was able to get a lot of one on one time with the kid. When you can have a situation like that, that’s perfect. Where you don’t think that other teams have as much information as you do and you can trade down, still get the guy you had targeted at a position of need and end up with extra picks. "Now we have to be good enough this year to take advantage of those picks with good talent to bring into the team, while still hopefully overstocking for the next couple years."

Kraft on the risks of trading up into the top 10:

"Bill has total authority to do whatever he thinks is in the best long-term interest of this team. Period. And the only time money gets factored into it … money is not a constraint, the constraint is the salary cap. ...

"Those top 10 picks, you better be 100 percent right -- [Jerod] Mayo is the one guy we’ve taken up there and we felt very strongly about him -- but you better be 100 percent right because otherwise you can truly cripple your team by using one of those top picks on a player. ... If you’re going to move from the bottom third of the round up to the top 5 or 10 picks, it’s going to take currency in future draft picks and you’re going to be committing a lot of money against your cap for somebody that’s not a proven commodity and that’s a risk."

Does criticism of the Patriots’ recent trend of trading down bother you?:

"No, it doesn’t, I think that’s the beauty of being a fan. ... We have traded up before in the first round, that’s not an unusual thing to do. … You think about ’07. We came out of that season with I believe the oldest starting defense in the NFL, and one of the things that we wanted to do coming out of that draft was to get younger on defense, but a goal of this organization is to stay competitive.

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