The National Football League Players Assn. asked a federal judge in Minneapolis Wednesday to overturn the league’s rules restricting free agency, something the union couldn’t persuade NFL team owners to do during bargaining that ended with the 24-day players’ strike.
Such an injunction would allow 527 of the league’s 1,600 players to negotiate with any team they wish when their contracts expire Feb. 1. They include 220 starters and 37 with Pro Bowl experience.
Judge David Doty, who took the case under advisement, termed the parties “two arrows going down two tracks and not meeting.” He said he would attempt to rule on the injunction request before Feb. 1.
“The players say there has to be some point in the players’ careers when the NFL doesn’t decide where the players go,” said Carol Rieger, lawyer for the NFLPA.
The same court gave the players unrestricted free agency 12 years ago, but the union agreed to restrictions in its 1977 and 1982 contracts with the league. The latest contract expired in August. When the sides couldn’t come to terms, the players went on strike. The 24-day strike ended without a contract but with the filing of the antitrust suit.
Paul Tagliabue, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for the league, argued that federal labor laws say that the contract’s conditions should remain in force although it expired in August.
The suit also asks the court to eliminate the college draft and to void all contracts signed after Sept. 16, 1987.