U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson has ruled, siding with the players in Brady v. NFL case and granting a preliminary injunction lifting the NFL owners nearly seven week long lockout (Judge Nelson’s full opinion). The judge sided with the players because the lockout “would continue to inflict irreparable harm upon them” and their careers while the NFL would be largely unaffected. Judge Nelson’s ruling has transformed this from a labor dispute headed to the National Labor Relations Board into an antitrust case to be decided by a federal court.

The immediate result of Judge Nelson’s issuing the preliminary without also issuing a stay of her own order is the trade association’s emailing the NFL players the following message on Monday evening, “Judge Nelson’s court order prevents the clubs from locking out players under contract, so they can show up for work. Unless and until the judge issues an order for a stay, the teams will be in violation of Judge Nelson’s order if they don’t allow access.” As a result of this email, team leaders spent most of the evening of April 25th contacting teammates and organizing players to arrive for workouts the next morning at team training facilities throughout the league. While teams have granted players access to the facilities, they have not authorized any players to participate in any type of meetings with team personnel or actual workouts.

Following Judge Nelson’s ruling the NFL stated:

We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes. We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree.

If the NFL does not secure a stay to stop Judge Nelson’s order pending appeal, the NFL will be forced to formally reopen for business. The league will not only have to let players return to train and prepare for the 2011 season they will have to address specific terms and conditions of employment for the players. Rules relating to free agency, salary cap restrictions and rosters will need to be established in order to comply with Judge Nelson’s order.

Responding to the ruling, players’ attorney Jim Quinn stated, “They (the NFL) better act quickly, because as of right now there’s no stay and, presumably, players could sign with teams. There are no guidelines as of right now, so they need to put something in place quickly.”

The NFL intends to set operating rules and, as the NFL’s spokesman Greg Aiello stated last evening, “We do not intend to start the league year until we have had an opportunity to seek a stay.”

Stayed tuned, the legal battle between the NFL and its players is about to reach mid-season form.