Judge lifts lockout, but NFL still frozen with appeal

Updated: 11:35 p.m.

A federal judge lifted the NFL lockout Monday, but it's unclear when the players are going to report and when free agency starts because the owners immediately appealed the decision and sought a stay seeking to extend the lockout.

But no one seems to know if Tuesday is going to be any different at Paul Brown Stadium than the 45 previous days of the lockout with the club expecting a stay and the NFL advising its teams there have been no changes.

With players in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Tennessee saying they'll report to their facilities Tuesday morning, Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the club's player representative, indicated he and his teammates won't be going in until more is known.

He told The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday night, "We're all anxious to get back to work, train together, prepare together and have a good football team. That's what is on the top of all our minds. Right now guys are just waiting for the final details. We'll find out in the next couple days. It's definitely going to be a hectic week."

Bengals quarterback Jordan Palmer plans to throw to some of his receivers and backs this week at his high school in Mission Veijo, Calif. There are a clutch of Bengals in town working out. Defensive linemen Domata Peko and Tank Johnson are working at Ignition in suburban Cincinnati and linebacker Rey Maualuga has been spending some time at the local D-1.

The league filed its appeal immediately.

"We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals," the NFL said in a statement. "We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes. We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal."

There were conflicting reports Monday night. NFL.com said some agents were advising players not to report Tuesday morning if there was no stay. But ESPN.com said the decertified NFL Players Association was advising players to report.

The stay could come as soon as Monday night. If a stay isn't granted, the players under contract can report and the owners would be forced to implement a system of rules. It could be under 2010 rules with no salary cap because the players have already agreed to those terms. The downside for the players is a sixth-year player like Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph would be a restricted free agent and not unrestricted. The upside is there would be no salary cap.

Experts say a stay of the lockout would mean at least another month waiting for the Eighth Circuit of Appeals in St. Louis to rule. If the NFL does go back to work in the next few days, free agency and other transactions such as trades probably wouldn't be let loose until next week. The NFL Draft, set for this Thursday-Saturday, wouldn't be affected.

Earlier Monday head coach Marvin Lewis said the Bengals were prepared to dip into free agency and open camps whenever the club got the go-ahead from the league.

"I have had to be prepared with our coaches and staff here to be prepared to have everything in place as though we are going as normal until I am told we are not," Lewis said. "We have to do everything that way. As time goes on we will have to go to other contingencies and so forth. But we are prepared to have a minicamp the weekend after the draft until we are told we are not going to do that. And then we will go from there. The planning of OTAs as scheduled and so forth until we are not underneath that." According to NFL.com, some agents said they would not advise players to attempt to work out or enter NFL team headquarters Tuesday morning, which would be an option if a ruling on a stay doesn't come down in 24 hours.

Additionally, an NFLPA official told NFL.com he did not expect players to try to report to teams, given that OTAs and minicamps are scheduled generally after the draft.

Judge Susan Nelson refuted the NFL's argument that the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 prevents in injunctions in labor disputes, largely because the NFL Players Association has decertified.

"The NFL urges this Court to expand the law beyond these traditional dictates and argues that the protections of labor law should apply for some indefinite period beyond the collapse and termination of the collective bargaining relationship," Nelson wrote in her opinion via ProFootballTalk.com. "In the absence of either persuasive policy or authority, this Court takes a more conservative approach, and declines to do so."

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