Nine weeks ago Friday at Roger Goodell’s annual State of the NFL press conference, I asked the commissioner why anyone should think that if a lockout happened, as seemed inevitable, that it would be solved before August. Goodell didn’t have a good answer.

Nine weeks later, the NFL and the Players Association remain at loggerheads and pro football’s offseason has been interrupted. I mentioned August because that’s when the preseason begins, but I really could have said September, the start of the regular season. That’s when the big money kicks in on both sides – television contracts for the owners and salaries for the players.

An NFL official had told me not long before Goodell’s press conference that the league would lose four percent of its revenues if there was a lockout from March until August. My logic in asking Goodell the question was that no rift of the magnitude of the one between the NFL and the NFLPA was going to be solved until a heck of a lot more than four percent of revenues were at stake.

Which brings us to the wild card in the collective bargaining impasse: Judge Susan Richard Nelson in whose Minneapolis courtroom the parties will argue today.

The NFLPA will try to convince the judge, who is new to football’s labor negotiations, that the NFL’s lockout, imposed on March 12, is a restraint of trade because it prevents them from earning a living.

The NFL will contend that the players’ decertification of the union on the eve of the expiration of the CBA is a “sham” and that the pending decision by the National Labor Relations Board on that matter trumps the players’ antitrust lawsuit which landed both sides in front of Nelson.

Nelson is expected to rule on these arguments in relatively short order and could jump-start the offseason by ending the lockout pending an appeal by the NFL to the Eighth Circuit Court. That panel wouldn’t likely issue an opinion until June. And with the Supreme Court shut down during the summer, the losing side on the appellate level could well take this battle into October, at which point the 2011 season would be in serious jeopardy of not being played at all.

So while Nelson’s hearing is the first sign of progress since the lockout began 25 days ago, it doesn’t mean that football is close to getting back to normal, especially if she rules in favor of the NFL, maintaining the lockout. If the NFLPA then declines to return to the bargaining table, the ball would move into the hands of the NLRB and the Eighth Circuit, neither of which moves with anything resembling the speed of Darrell Green. Not even the 51-year-old Darrell Green.

david elfin sm David Elfin On Sports: From the Gridiron To The Courtroom For The NFLDavid Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.


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