I have read a lot of posturing of what the legal battle between the NFL and the players means. Most peoples opinions are based on journalists taking quotes out of context. To help clarify what is going on, here is a summary of the complaint and motion in support filed by the NFL Players. To put this in context, it might be helpful to gain a basic understanding of antitrust law.
The current CBA resulted from, and is based primarily upon, a Stipulation and Settlement Agreement that resulted from White v. NFL. For the sake of simplicity, I am only going to refer to these documents as the CBA collectively. On March 11, 2011 Tom Brady, eight other NFL players, and one prospective player filed a CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT against the NFL and also filled a MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN SUPPORT OF THE PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION.
The complaint consists of 6 basic arguments:
1) The establishment of the players as a class
The purpose of this section is to establish that all NFL players are similarly enough situated to sue the NFL as a single body.
2) The establishment of the validity of the decertification of the NFLPA.
This is necessary in order to bring any antitrust suit. An antitrust suit cannot be brought under the Sherman Act when there is a collective bargaining organization, in this case the NFLPA, in place. If the NFL locked the players out prior to their decertification, then the players would have to wait through a tolling period before they would be allowed to decerrtfy.
3) That the he NFL waived the ability to claim a labor exemption after the expiration of the CBA.
If this stands up, it prevents the NFL from challenging the validity of the decertification in court. In effect, it means that the NFL must accept the decertification is valid, and, thus, cannot claim that they are immune from antitrust violations because the players are still functioning as a union.
4) A description of the types of impermissible restrictions on trade.
This includes the draft, franchising of players, transition tags, restricted free agency, and most importantly the lockout itself. They go on to discuss later how the Salary cap itself is a restraint on players receiving free market value. There are claims for breach of contract and tortuous interference with prospective contractual relations for preventing the players to complete their contracts or agree to new contracts.
5) The players ask for declaratory judgment under the conditions of the CBA.
If the players win this, the case is over without trial. However, judges rarely declare declaritory judgement.
6) Request for relief.
The players ask for an injunction preventing a lockout. A removal of the draft, all restrictive player tags, an order preventing the owners from not paying the players, and various material damages.
My Opinion Interestingly, no players that not eligible for the current draft were included in the suit. The age restrictions on players entering the draft could have also been challenged as a player restriction