Both the National Football League Players Assn. and the NFL Management Council expressed satisfaction with a federal judge's decision in Minneapolis Friday that left their dispute in the hands of the National Labor Relations Board.
The union filed an antitrust lawsuit after the 24-day strike last October, claiming that the draft, the first refusal/draft compensation system and standard player contract were invalid since the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement Aug. 31.
As a result, the union said, more than 500 players would be free agents when their contracts expire Monday.
But U.S. District Judge David Doty said Friday that the NLRB must first rule on the Management Council's charge that the union failed to bargain in good faith, and that could take several weeks, according to union official Doug Allen.
"The judge ruled that the restrictions on free agency are exempt (from federal law) until an impasse occurs in collective bargaining," Allen said. "We believe that has happened (although) you can't reach impasse if one side is guilty of bargaining in bad faith. We're very comfortable with this."
Jack Donlan, executive director of the Management Council, asked about an impasse, said: "Heck, no. We don't even think we're close. This is a union that hasn't attended many meetings and hasn't stayed long when they've been there.
"We're very pleased with the decision because the judge has said it's a status quo. It drives the parties back to the bargaining table, which is what we want."