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Expect labor battle between NFL, players to last until 2012; mailbag

BOSTON -- Logan Mankins speaks.

Appearing this morning at a fundraiser for New England Patriots teammate Matt Light, Mankins, one of the 10 plaintiffs in the players' lawsuit against the NFL, had a "being there'' kind of reaction to Judge Susan Nelson's ruling to enjoin NFL teams from locking out the 1,900 NFL players from their practice facilities and weight rooms.

"It's a step in the right direction,'' said Mankins, the Patriots' all-pro guard who has been a free agent but hasn't been able to test the unrestricted market for the past two offseasons. "It can only help players across the league get back to playing football. But it's been weird being a free agent for the last two years and not being free.''

Judge Nelson advised the players and owners today that she wanted players' counterarguments to the league's requests for a delay of her injunction by 10 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday. So as team officials, players and league executives try to come to grips with what the injunction means, today promises to be full of questions.

As I wrote late Monday night, the league filed two motions with Nelson's court. The first was a motion of clarification, seeking more information on the practical implications of the 89-page ruling. The second was a motion to stay her ruling while the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis hears the NFL's appeal of Monday's ruling. Regardless of whether she allows the stay, the future is murky. Three things could happen:

• She could allow the stay, keeping NFL doors locked until the appeals court hears the case.

• She could not allow the stay and order the 2011 league year -- with free-agency and player trades -- to begin immediately, or within days ... which would throw the league into chaos this week as it prepares for the three-day draft, set to begin Thursday night in New York.

• Or she could allow the Eighth Circuit to rule on the stay, which one legal expert Monday night said would take between two and seven days. In this case, the appeals court could either order the league year to start immediately or wait until the resolution of the case in appeals.

McCANN: Players sit in driver's seat after ruling

That's a complex deal. But Mankins, and the others at the breakfast for Light's foundation this morning, could agree on one thing: Even though there's going to be a contentious period between players and owners until a bridge is built between the two sides, Nelson's ruling is probably a good sign for people worried that the season wouldn't be played in its entirety this year.

"I think there's going to be a full season now, and that's good for fans,'' said Mankins.

It is -- but what isn't going to be good is the constant labor news. The public is tired of it, and if the owners are forced to open the doors against their will, look for the fight between the two sides to last into 2012. At least.

***

Phil Taylor is going to be fine -- he thinks.

One of the last remaining stories before the draft is the condition of the right foot of Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor, probably the best nose tackle in this draft. Ten days ago, it was reported Taylor had a problem with two bones growing together in the foot, a problem surgery was unlikely to help. But last week, Taylor was examined by San Francisco team doctors and given an X-ray, and he said he was told the foot was not a problem. In fact, the team gave the foot a clean bill of health, and the only health-related question the Niners had was about an old shoulder injury that also isn't considered a problem.

"That report came out of left field,'' Taylor said. "I haven't had any pain in my foot. There's nothing wrong with it. And those doctors [in San Francisco] confirmed that, so now nobody should have any questions about it.''

Taylor could get picked anywhere between 21 (Kansas City) and 32 (Green Bay). It's unlikely, given the number of 3-4 teams late in the first round, that he'll last until the second round. He can play the nose or, in a pinch, defensive end in the 3-4, or tackle in the 4-3, though it's most likely he'd be a match for a 3-4 team that likes to use its nose in a versatile way. Vince Wilfork sliding outside in New England comes to mind. Taylor's been linked to the Jets (picking 30th), which would be a good fit with Rex Ryan. He might be a poor man's Haloti Ngata.

"I don't watch much football on TV,'' Taylor said, "but I know what the Jets do, and that'd be a great fit for me. I'd love to be there.''

***

Now for your e-mail:

CONSIDER THE TEAMS WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT WHERE PLAYERS ARE DRAFTED. "All the focus for quarterbacks is on the player. What is your opinion of the different QB-needy teams as to which teams are best prepared to develop their newly drafted player? Doesn't some portion of success rest with the coaching staff and other factors that winning teams possess?''--Greg Silvestri, Edina, Minn.

That's a huge part of the equation, obviously. And so many of the teams needing a quarterback this year have other problems that will either stand in the way of a quarterback being successful or limit his ability to win early in his career. The place I think is best suited for a young quarterback to win, among the teams that need one this year, is San Francisco. I like the prospect of a guy being coached by Jim Harbaugh and having some good young receivers, though I question how well a passer with the 49ers will be protected.

SHOULD THE DRAFT MOVE BACK TO THE WEEKEND? "Enjoy your columns. I was wondering your thoughts about the draft moving from a Saturday/Sunday format to the Thursday/Friday/Saturday format. I personally didn't like it last year and just skipped watching it until Saturday.

In the past we would have a big get-together, everyone had their jerseys on and we would grill out, making a whole day of it. Now with the setup, you can't get people to drive that far and sit at a house for 3+ hours then drive back home, because they have to work the next day. I understand the move was made for money, but I really wish the NFL would understand that sometimes it would be nice if they put the fans first.

I probably am living in fantasy land with that thought, but I really don't think the majority of players and owners get it. The NFL would be nothing without the fans, and the players would, for the most part, make fractions of what they get today. Instead of thanking the fans they seem to ignore us, until they need our money.''--Sam, Hudson, Iowa

I've heard that from a lot of people, Sam, and I empathize with you. But more people watched the first round last year than ever watched the first round before -- far more. So I don't think the league will consider moving it back.

NOTHING'S CHANGED. "What's the story with overtime this coming season? Are we looking at sudden-death in the regular season and the new alternate sudden-death-unless rules for the playoffs again? Or do we get a peek at sudden-death-unless in the regular season too?''--Michael, Richmond, Va.

The league decided not to change the overtime rules this year. It's possible the NFL could change the rules at its May meetings, but something tells me the NFL will have bigger fish to fry then.

WE'LL SEE, BUT THAT'S NOT THE SENSE I GET. "Peter, I actually think interest is higher in the draft than in past years and suspect the numbers will reflect this on Thursday and Friday. What I believe you are seeing is pre-draft analysis fatigue because it is all that has been going on without free agency and league operations. Hang in there, we are interested and listening.''--Bill, Wellesley, Mass.

The numbers on NFL Network and ESPN will tell us that. The one thing in the favor of big ratings? Quarterbacks. Paul Allen of KFAN in Minneapolis -- he does a talk show and is the play-by-play man for the Vikings -- tells me fans in the Twin Cities are really into the draft this year, and he thinks a big reason is they're looking forward to who the quarterback of the future is, and they think that quarterback is coming this week. So you may be right.

GOOD QUESTION, AND WE CAN'T KNOW IT NOW. "Pretty fascinating stuff on the mental backflips GMs like Marty Hurney go through with the top pick decision and the fact that their careers are on the line. Would be interested in your take on which a guy like Hurney would more likely be fired for: Drafting Cam Newton and he's a bust or not drafting Newton and he ends up the next all-world QB elsewhere?''--Ryan, Tampa

Interesting. A general manager always gets in trouble for passing on a great player. But in this case, I'd say it'd be worse to take Newton and have him fail, because there are so many warning signs that Newton is flawed. Even as I say that, I understand why the Panthers are so tempted about Newton. They need a quarterback, they're in a division with three good or great quarterbacks, and there's no player of such greatness at a difference-making position (except maybe Patrick Peterson) that would make you say you should pass on a quarterback here. And for all those people who say the Panthers should defer a quarterback pick now and go for Andrew Luck this year? Come on. You can't guarantee being the worst of 32 teams, and you can't ask a team to tank.

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