2011 NFL Season in Jeopardy – Players File Suit

By: Max Schlan

Almost immediately following the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFL and its players, a group of current and potentially future players in the NFL including QB’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Texas A&M star Von Miller filed a class action lawsuit this past Friday against the NFL and the owners of the 32 teams who make up the league.[1] The complaint seeks to enjoin the league from the owner-imposed “lockout” that went into effect immediately after negotiations broke down and the CBA expired.[2]

The lengths taken by the players to bring suit is a far cry from its show of unity made during the opening game of the previous season.[3] After the announcement that negotiations have broken down and the CBA had expired, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) filed paper with the National Labor Relations Board that it will no longer be representing the players in collective bargaining.[4] This allowed players to bring a class action with the belief that they will not be hampered by non-statutory labor exemptions.[5]

The complaint makes many allegations.  First and foremost is the alleged illegality of the “lockout.”  Players claim that the owners’ “lockout . . . constitutes an unreasonable restraint on trade . . . .”[6] They argue that the only purpose of the “lockout” is to force players into agreeing to other anti-competitive restrictions.[7] The players seek to enjoin the NFL from enacting the “lockout” because “monetary damages are not adequate to compensate Plaintiffs . . . for the irreparable harm” because of the short lifespan of a player’s career.[8]

Next, the players claim that the “entering player pool” known as the rookie draft is per se unlawful because it constitutes a horizontal agreement between teams meant to fix wages.[9] As for the reasons stated in regards to the lockout, the players seek to enjoin the upcoming draft in April.[10]

Players also seek damages on restriction to wages and free agency. They claim that the salary cap as well as the “franchise” and “transition” player designations are anti-competitive practices meant to stifle wages. [11] Assuming the “lockout” is to be enjoined, they seek monetary compensation on lost wages due to these supposed anticompetitive acts.[12]

Finally, players are alleging breach of contract for those whose contracts are still in place and tortious interference to contract for those whose contracts have either expired or have not yet contracted to play.[13] They seek monetary compensation for the injuries that may have occurred.[14]

There are many scenarios that may occur from now until the start of the 2011 season.[15] What is clear is that whatever happens from this point forward will be determined by the courts.

[1] Aaron Kuriloff, Brady, Manning, Brees Take Super Bowl Leadership into Court against NFL, BLOOMBERG.COM, March 14, 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-14/brady-manning-brees-take-super-bowl-leadership-into-court-against-nfl.html.

[2] See Brady v. NFL, 2011 WL 836687 at par. 63, 118, 123 (D. Minn. Mar. 11, 2011) (Trial Pleading).

[3]Are Saints on Way to Another NFL Title, NPR (September 10,2010), available at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129780856  (interview with Drew Brees).

[4] Jim Trotter, NFLPA Files to Decertify as a Union; Labor Dispute Headed to Court, March 11, 2011, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/football/nfl/03/11/union-labor/index.html.

[5] See Brady, 2011 WL 836687 at *78-79.

[6] Id. at *120.

[7] Id. at *65

[8] Id. *123.

[9] Id. *126.

[10] Id. *67, 126.

[11] Id. *132.

[12] Id. *136.

[13] Id. *138, 143.

[14] Id. *141, 147.

[15] See generally Michael McCann, NFL and Players will now Take Labor Dispute to Courts, March 11, 2011, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/michael_mccann/03/11/whatnext/index.html (explaining possible scenarios that may occur now that the NFLPA has decertified).

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