For all intents and purposes, nothing has happened between the NFL and NFLPA* [Ed. note: I’m using Pro Football Talk’s shorthand for the trade association formerly known as the NFLPA] since the union decertified, the NFL instituted the lockout, and the players filed Brady vs. the NFL. All the public talk from the two sides has just been PR—but not all of their talk has been public. ESPN’s John Clayton reported that the NFLPA* reached out to the league, to negotiate a settlement to the lawsuit, but the NFL refused. That would have represented real progress, but it didn’t happen. The NFL denies that the NFLPA offered such negotiations, but admitted they would not negotiate settlement terms (as they contend the decertification is fake).
There are two great articles explaining what today’s about: Pro Football Talk’s “Ten Things to Know About the Wednesday Court Hearing,” and ESPN’s Lester Munson doing a Lockout Q&A. Here’s the upshot: the best-case scenario, for fans, is that Judge Susan Nelson orders the two sides back to mediation, and to not come out until they reach a settlement. Unfortunately, that’s quite unlikely. The second-best-case scenario, is Judge Nelson granting an immediate injunction—meaning, she rules in favor of the players, the lockout ends, free agency begins, and we have business as usual until the conclusion of the trial. This is more likely than her ordering the parties back to mediation, but still not very likely.
According to the above two articles (and others), the most likely outcome today is Judge Nelson ruling in favor of the players, granting them the injunction that blocks the lockout—but with an order to “stay” the injunction until an appeal is heard. That means the lockout continues until, likely, mid-summer. According to PFT, the standard for an appeal of such an injunction is high; the Federal Court of Appeals, like instant replay, will have to determine Judge Nelson made a major mistake—they can’t re-rule the case from scratch.
The worst-case scenario, for fans, is if the owners win. The lockout would continue until the case works all the way through federal courts (meaning no real 2011 season), or the players can no longer ride out the process and resume negotiations (presumably after re-certifying as a union). For years, this has been the owners’ plan: to lock the players out and wait for them to cave. They know that the players need paychecks much more than they need ticket sales. It’s why they took less money from DirecTV, so would DirecTV pay them for non-existent games during the lockout. Even though Judge Doty prevented them from accessing that money, the owners are still in far better position to go a year without revenue than the players.
So, bottom line: if the players win today, the fans, players, coaches, assistants, scouts, trainers, concessions workers, and parking-lot attendants win. If the owners win, everybody loses but the owners.