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NFL Lockout 2011: If Court Halts Lockout, Free Agency Will Follow

Even with a lockout of NFL players currently in place, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports wrote just prior to the lockout being enforced by owners that "the NFL offseason – including the NFL draft – will progress pretty much as normal after a short break."

How can that be? Well, let's break down where the situation is the best we can.

The players, of course, have filed suit seeking an injunction seeking to stop the lockout. "We hope it will stop a lockout dead in its tracks," said Jeffrey Kessler, outside counsel for the NFL Players Association.

If the players get a favorable ruling from the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, where the case is assigned, the lockout would be lifted. In that case, Yahoo!'s Cole said he would expect there to be a free-agency period prior to the April 28-30 NFL Draft.

Even if the lockout is lifted and off-season activities like free agency commence, that does not guarantee a 2011 season. Both sides say they want football to be played in 2011, but at least one legal expert thinks it will be several months before a deal is completed.

"There will be no negotiating for a while," said Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. "Both sides will wait to see how the legal maneuvering plays out.

"Where we are after all the mediated negotiations is the players reached a point where they figure they can get a better deal if they file an antitrust lawsuit than continue to bargain at the table. The league would have preferred to be in collective bargaining and lock the players out because they feel it's the best way to maximize their leverage.

"Ultimately, come August and September, they feel they will have more leverage to get a better deal."

Peter King of wrote this morning that players and owners may not be as far apart as they think they are in getting a new collective bargaining agreement in place.

Both King and Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported the possibility that the NFL could play the 2011 season without a salary cap, basically just playing the season under the capless 2010 rules.

Whatever happens, the next step is to wait for the District Court ruling on whether or not the lockout will be lifted. Until then, it's all just speculation.