The owners have filed a letter in the Eighth Circuit responding the players' letter from earlier this morning, and attaching a letter from the players' counsel (James Quinn of Weil Gotshal) indicating that it was the players' view that league operations must resume immediately and that the owners were in contempt if they did not. Check back shortly for more.
UPDATE: Earlier today, James Quinn, attorney for the players, sent a letter to Gregg Levy, attorney for the NFL, which concluded, "Please confirm that the League will commence 2011 league operations with immediate effect, including the opening of the free agent signing period and the provision of player access to team workout facilities and personnel. Failure by the NFL Defendants to comply with the Injunction Order is grounds for contempt, and the Plaintiffs will pursue appropriate remedies."
Fifteen minutes ago, the League wrote a letter to the Eighth Circuit, attaching Quinn's letter and reiterating their request for a temporary stay. In their letter this morning, the players wrote that they would like the Eighth Circuit to hold the owners request "in abeyance" -- saying, essentially, "Please don't rule on this until we can get out papers in tomorrow". The owners (rightly, I think) are saying that delaying a decision is like denying the request: if the Eighth Circuit does not issue a temporary stay, the players will argue that the League must resume business immediately, on pain of contempt, with the threat of "appropriate remedies".
Remember, a "temporary stay" means that the Eighth Circuit would temporarily put Judge Nelson's decision on hold -- preventing the start of the new League year -- until it makes a final decision about staying her decision while the actual appeal is pending. The owners write that a temporary stay would only last a few days, and in this regard they are probably right.
I suspect that the owners will get their temporary stay. The players will put in their opposition to the stay tomorrow afternoon, the owners will respond, and we will have an actual stay decision within a few days. Getting that stay -- to put the decision on hold for the pendency of the entire appeal, a process that could take months -- will probably be much harder to come by.
UPDATE TWO (1:20 pm): The Eighth Circuit just issued an order which reads,
The National Football League has filed a motion for stay pending appeal and to expedite the appeal. The Players are directed to file a response to this motion by Noon, CDST, on Friday, April 29, 2011. The League’s reply to the response is due by 9:00 a.m. CDST, on Monday, May 2, 2011.I wonder why the temporary stay motion was not decided yet. Probably not great news for the owners, though it's always hard to predict these things.
The League’s motion for a temporary stay remains pending before the court.
UPDATE THREE (1:40 pm): The rumblings are that the players will write a letter to Judge Nelson to clarify that the League year must begin tomorrow. The NFL sent a memo to the owners indicating that facilities could open for business, but specifically not issuing any guidelines on free agency, trades, etc. Remember, in his letter earlier today, players' attorney James Quinn wanted the League to confirm that the "League will commence 2011 league operations with immediate effect, including the opening of the free agent signing period and the provision of player access to team workout facilities and personnel". The League only agreed to one of those two things, but it appears that the League's memo was sent just before the Eighth Circuit's order taking no action on the temporary stay. If no temporary stay issues, contempt proceedings become much more likely.
UPDATE FOUR (4:20 pm): This afternoon, the players filed yet another letter with the Eighth Circuit, seeking to make "one final point" regarding the owners' request for a temporary stay. In short, they contested the owners' factual assertions, arguing that the league would suffer no harm by immediately lifting the lockout. They attached NFL's post-injunction memo to teams, which had specific provisions regarding OTAs, workouts, etc. -- but specifically did not mention player transactions. The players have been insisting that free agency must open immediately, and this letter continues that theme and attacks the owners for not complying with Monday's order lifting the lockout. No word yet on when the Eighth Circuit will rule on the temporary stay request.
As a practical matter, this doesn't change much -- we have heard these arguments before -- but it does suggest that the players are not backing down from the position that the League year must begin immediately, and presumably that failure to do so constitutes contempt.