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NFL back to work today

Teams, players receive the OK

Cam Newton was the first to pose with commissioner Roger Goodell after the Panthers selected the Auburn QB No. 1. Cam Newton was the first to pose with commissioner Roger Goodell after the Panthers selected the Auburn QB No. 1. (Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters)
By Dave Campbell
Associated Press / April 29, 2011

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MINNEAPOLIS — Finally, the NFL is getting back to football.

Five days after a federal judge declared the lockout was illegal and nearly seven weeks after it began, the NFL said players can talk with coaches, work out at team headquarters, and look at their playbooks.

The NFL said all of that can begin today, when it is also expected to release detailed guidelines for free agency, trades, and other roster moves in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement.

“That’s great news,’’ said linebacker Joe Mays, one of 10 Denver Broncos players who showed up at the team’s headquarters yesterday. “It’s something we’ve been trying to do, get back to work.’’

It was a welcome step forward on a day members of the Tennessee Titans showed up to find two armed security guards at their locked-up facility, with no sign of their new coach. New players in particular will benefit from the new guidelines.

“These rookies, there’s a lot going on for them,’’ New York Giants center Shaun O’Hara said. “So any info they can get, any things they can study, is good. If the lockout happens again, they’ll have plenty to study from their teams.’’

That’s certainly what the NFL wants.

The league has asked the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout as soon as possible. The court is considered a friendlier venue for businesses than the federal courts in Minnesota.

The NFL wants an immediate stay of US District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision on Monday to lift the 45-day lockout so it can argue that it should be overturned altogether. The players were told to respond to the league’s motion for a stay by midday today, and the NFL’s reply to that is due Monday morning.

Michael Gans, the appeals court clerk, said a three-judge panel for the appeal had not been set.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he feared the fight could last for a while.

“I think the litigation, unfortunately, could go on for some period of time,’’ he told the NFL Network. He said he was looking forward to the next round of court-ordered talks May 16.

“I think that it’s important to get back to that,’’ he said. “That’s the type of thing that should happen — real bargaining across the table.’’

At least now, four days after Nelson lifted the lockout, there are guidelines to follow.

Mandatory minicamps and voluntary offseason practices can begin under rules of the collective bargaining agreement that expired March 11. Team-supervised workouts will count toward bonuses in player contracts, and players can also work out on their own at team facilities if they have health insurance in place.

The league will arrange for substance abuse and steroid programs to resume, and players can participate in team-sponsored community and charity events.

Agent Angelo Wright said he has told players under contract not to worry about visiting headquarters this weekend out of fairness to the teams so they can focus on the draft. He said they should plan to show up Monday, and said he’d start calling team executives about unsigned players as soon as Sunday night.

Still pending is a fight over $4 billion in broadcast revenue.

Players asked yesterday for millions in damages beyond the $6.9 million recommended by a special master and said the money could become key as the legal fight drags on.

Now the fight will be taken up by the 8th Circuit. The league even proposed a timeline: a written opening argument due May 10, the same due for the players May 24, the NFL’s reply due May 31, and a hearing after that “as soon as possible.’’

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