The NLF's main argument against the players at this point is that the union still exists at least in principal as the players are still negotiating and going to court as a group. The players are of course claiming that it is a class action. The owners also have the previous agreement (CBA) that was signed by both sides that stated that the NFLPA could not de-certify for 6 months following the end of the deal to back them up in court. This previous deal ended on March 12th of this year. If they are still a union then the NFL is within its rights to lock the players out collectively. This is at least the concept upon which the appeals court allowed the lockout to continue.
My guess? Sooner than later. I have read a lot of articles about the NFL labor dispute and it seems to me that while the players may have made things harder on themselves in the short term by taking this thing in to the courts the owners are the ones that have the most to loose overall on the legal front if this is not settled ASAP.
The next big date at least as far as the legal wrangling goes will come up on September 12th. By this time both sides will be loosing money. This is of course the 6 months date from the end of the previous CBA. This is also the day that most believe the courts will be forced to allow the union to de-certify in the eyes of the court. The NFL is of course asking the courts to allow them to lock out the players for a full year but most legal experts on both sides of the fence believe that is not something the courts will ever grant the NFL in the long run. The owners DO NOT want this to happen under any circumstance.
Why would the owners fear this so much? Because then it will be right back in the courts where they will not have a leg to stand on. Basically every anti trust suit that is brought by the players will be won by the players. This would literally change the entire way business is done in the NFL. Could the NFL still hold a draft? Sure. Could they require a player to register to play in the NFL? They could try but would loose in court the first time someone sued. Could the NFL force a player to sign with a team they did not want to go to? They could make a rule that would quickly be struck down by a court. No more holding a players rights past his contract and on and on and on.
So why are the owners not caving if they have more to loose in the long run? IMO it all comes down to bank accounts. How long can a billionaire afford to go without a check? How about an NFL player? Well if your Tom Brady who started this whole legal mess (with help from the union of course) then your probably fine and could always live off of your old lady that makes more than you. If your name is Dez Bryant and you have already managed to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and already have pending law-suits then maybe not so long. (By the way what sort of dumb ass buys that much jewelry they can not afford? Sorry all you Dez fans but that guy is a moron.) I honestly believe that the owners believe that it is the players will cave and in the end they will get things the way they want them.
Chances are they are correct. While the owners do not want to loose a single preseason game (the players thing there are too many so they probably do not care) they are probably more willing to push this thing to the brink knowing that many of these players are already all but broke by the start of training camp. Once the idea of missing a game check gets near the pressure will be on some of these guys and they will be much more willing to sign the best deal offered at that time. Even with the idea of crushing the NFL in court looming I do not think a majority of the players can afford to wait around several more months for it to work its way through the courts yet again. Hell by the time it does there would be a good chance we are in to 2012 and the season would long since have been lost. How many guys can go 20 months without a pay check?
My guess is that there is enough motivation on both sides to get this thing done before too much damage is done to the season. I think they are both still playing a game of bluff while feeling each other out. In the end we will have a season and by this time next year all will be back to normal. I hope!