MINNEAPOLIS --- The NFL lockout is headed for the courtroom.
With the lockout at three weeks and no end in sight, attorneys for the NFL and its locked-out players will go before a federal judge today in the first round of their fight over the future of the $9 billion business -- including the 2011 season.
The players -- with stars like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among the plaintiffs and retirees and rookies joining them in support -- are asking for an immediate end to the lockout on the basis of "irreparable harm" to their careers.
The injunction request accompanies the antitrust lawsuit filed against the league after labor talks broke down on March 11.
The league says it has the right to keep players from working and says the court must wait until the National Labor Relations Board rules on its claim that the players didn't negotiate in good faith.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson isn't likely to rule on the injunction request today, but the winner would have fresh leverage whenever talks on a new collective bargaining agreement resume. Whatever Nelson decides will almost surely be appealed.
It could become even more complicated if Nelson lifts the lockout, because the handling of free agency could be a major contention, as far as which players are eligible and whether a salary cap would be in place.
Jonathan Rubin, a Washington trial attorney and antitrust expert, said he sees an "uphill battle" for the players in court.
"Because they could be prevented from shopping for the legal framework, whether that's antitrust law or labor law. The federal court might decide that this is not within the power of private parties to determine by contract, which is the implicit thing the players are asking for," Rubin said.