The Buffalo Bills players remain in competitive limbo in the wake of Monday's court ruling that ended the NFL lockout.
"Just because we have a decision rendered in our favor, my mind-set hasn't changed," said safety George Wilson, the Bills' player representative. "I'm still set on working out on my own. We knew that whoever didn't get the ruling in their favor was going to file an appeal. At the end of the day this is what I expected, and what we told all our guys."
The ruling by federal judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul, Minn., requires the league's owners to lift the lockout that was imposed on March 11. The league has asked Nelson to impose "a stay of execution" on the decision while the case is brought before the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. If Nelson denies the stay, the league will request an immediate appeal to the Eighth Circuit.
If the stay strategy fails, the league will have to open for business and allow players to work at the team facilities. The league also will have to put some rules in place to conduct a free-agency signing period.
Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin was among a handful of players around the league who showed up for work Tuesday morning in the wake of the court ruling. The league already had decided to deny players access to the team facilities while the request for a stay was pending. Nevertheless, players reported as a show of their willingness to work.
"Leodis McKelvin came by the facility this morning," Wilson said. "He got in the building but they called [Chief Executive Officer) Russ [Brandon] down to say a few things to him. It was definitely respectful."
While Wilson is pragmatic about the legal maneuverings, he's still frustrated about not being able to prepare for the season under normal circumstances.
"After reading the memo the league apparently sent out last night telling teams not to open up the weight room and have coaches not talk to players and not engage in contract negotiations, I don't understand why we have to wait so long after a court ruling is handed down," Wilson said. "But I guess this is just the way politics and the court system works. It muddies the waters. It makes you question how bad they really want football."
The league released the following statement on Nelson's injunction: "We are going to proceed in an orderly way that is fair to the teams and players and complies with court orders. Players are being treated with courtesy and respect at club facilities. We do not believe it is appropriate for football activities to take place until there are further rulings from the court."
Nelson gave the players until this morning to respond to the league's motion to freeze her decision to lift the lockout. It's possible Nelson could allow a temporary stay so the league can set up work rules while the appeal is considered.
The injunction is a clear-cut loss for the owners. The league is hopeful it will get a more favorable hearing before the appeals court, which has a reputation for conservative, pro-business decisions. However, Nelson's ruling was considered thorough, at 89 pages long, and there is speculation the appeals court might have trouble overturning it.
Meanwhile, the players are trying to stay in shape on their own. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last week hosted a group of teammates for passing-game practice near his home in Arizona. Included were Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones, Naaman Roosevelt, Marcus Easley and Levi Brown.
"I definitely don't have a problem at all with Fitz and the wideouts running routes and getting the timing of the passing game," Wilson said. "It takes a little bit longer for the offense to jell, and they need to be on the same page. That being said that's a bit of a controlled environment where you're running routes on air and you don't have anybody pressing you at the line of scrimmage. You don't have anybody competing with you for the ball. All that could increase the injury risk."
Wilson, however, said he does not think team-wide practice sessions are a good idea during the lockout, if it continues.
"I'm not in favor of guys getting together having seven-on-seven sessions or one-on-one drills or things like that because we're paying for our own insurance," Wilson said. "If guys get hurt, they're left to fend for themselves. The team wouldn't be involved in any way. I'm not encouraging guys to try to have seven-on-seven practices when we don't have any trainers or doctors out there and we're liable for any injuries that occur and left footing the bill."
Wilson said the players are left "swinging in the wind."
"It's just an uncomfortable feeling," he said. "You're supposed to be training and you want to do everything you can to compete. But at the same time you have to be smart. We're all subcontractors here. You have to protect the opportunity you have. You can't just risk it all by going out and trying to do what you think the coaches might want you to work on."