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Players, owners in limbo

NFL hamstrung by lockout ruling

By Dave Campbell
Associated Press / April 27, 2011

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Lockout has turned into limbo for National Football League players and owners, and everyone is stuck there for the time being.

“It drives me insane, that’s what it does,’’ said Chicago rookie J’Marcus Webb, who was told he and a handful of other Bears couldn’t use the team’s weight room yesterday. “I’m trying to eat healthy and work out, do my job and right now I’m just stuck at home working out and watching cartoons all day.

“What’s up with that? Let me get back to what I do best.’’

That could take a while. The 2011 season, and the business between 32 teams and their thousands of anxious players, is in a holding pattern. With more court fights and appeals expected, the NFL said it needed “a few days to sort this out’’ and provide some rules for everyone to follow.

“We are in the process of determining throughout the league as to just how we’ll proceed and when we’ll open the new year across the league, the new football year,’’ Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “We have not done that.’’

At least the draft will be held this week, even if free agency and personnel swaps are up in the air.

In one of the oddest days in NFL history, players showed up at their team headquarters and most were told that they were welcome to come inside as long as they didn’t participate in any sort of “football activities.’’

Most left in a matter of minutes with more questions than answers about where the $9 billion business is headed. And there was no consistency — some teams allowed players to work out (Giants) while others turned them away altogether (Bills).

In a question-and-answer memo distributed by the NFLPA and obtained by the AP, free agents were told they can contact teams and shop their services, putting pressure on the NFL to set up a free agency system that complies with antitrust laws.

The document also told players that teams are responsible for care of any football-related injury, meaning it’s “safer for players to work out on club property.’’

US District Judge Susan Richard Nelson lifted the 45-day lockout late Monday, but that did nothing to clear this up. The NFL asked her to put her order on hold, and she agreed to weigh the request after the players’ response is filed today.

That means the questions will linger at least another day and if the NFL loses again, it will place its hopes with the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

With Nelson’s decision pending, NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said it was too soon to tell exactly when free agency would begin and which players would be eligible.

“What we need to do is let the dust settle for a day or two and see if the stay is put in place, and then we’ll all know more and go from there,’’ Pash said.

Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy said the owners were concerned about restarting league operations — and then perhaps having another “un-start’’ in two months.

“One of our lawyers described it as trying to unscramble an egg,’’ Murphy said. “I think that’s what we all want to avoid.’’

Little was clear yesterday as both sides seemed to make up the rules as they went along. And the vast majority of players simply stayed away.

Cleveland wide receiver Josh Cribbs and a small group of Browns players showed up at the team’s training facility and were greeted by Lew Merletti, senior vice president and director of security. Merletti handed them an official letter.

“It basically told us to be patient,’’ Cribbs said. “It let us know we can’t go upstairs and can’t have any personal contact with coaches or staff. It was kind of awkward because we don’t talk to our security staff unless there is a security issue, so the security issue was us.’’

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