The latest federal appeals court ruling stands as a legal victory for the NFL, albeit one with negative short-term consequences for teams navigating through significant changes this offseason.
The ruling removes the possibility of free agency beginning before the pending June 3 court case. If that case fails to produce a quick resolution, the lockout would likely continue even longer. And if the NFL ultimately prevailed, the league would be in stronger position to wait out players for however long it took.
This legal battle has played out pretty much as expected to this point. The players figured to have the edge at the district level. Owners stood a better chance at the appellate level, particularly in securing the stay granted Monday. The winner of the next round figures to emerge in the strongest position to fashion an agreement on its terms. A ruling in a concurrent dispute over $4 billion in broadcast revenue also could affect the leverage equation.
In the meantime, the lockout continues to hurt NFC West teams significantly. The division has one new head coach, four new offensive coordinators (three new to their teams), two new defensive coordinators and one new special-teams coach. The 49ers are breaking in newcomers at each of those positions. And with every NFC West team but St. Louis seeking quarterback stability, any lockout extension prevents Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco from gaining depth-chart clarity where it matters most.
The 49ers made provisions by using a second-round pick on quarterback Colin Kaepernick and all but agreeing to terms on a deal with Alex Smith, but neither is getting the one-on-one work he needs under coach Jim Harbaugh, coordinator Greg Roman and the offensive staff. Smith does have a 49ers playbook and Kaepernick was expected to get one as well.
Also: Does the latest ruling improve the chances for an agreement?