The incorrect assumption many people have had is that should the owner imposed lockout of the players end (via another favorable court decision for the players) that 2011 free agency would be governed under the 2010 rules. Under such rules, a player like Peyton Manning could be tagged as a 'franchise player' in the final year of his contract, meaning that the Colts could negotiate with Manning without him hitting the open market.
But, as we have said here for some time now, franchise tags, transition tags, and tags of any kind are utterly meaningless because there is no collective bargaining agreement for 2011 and beyond. And as federal court Judge Nelson stated in her opinion, one of the examples she cited while agreeing with the players argument (that they were suffering irreparable harm) was that Peyton Manning was unable to negotiate a new contract in a 'free market.'
While not effectively striking down any of the 'tags' that the owners and their teams falsely state are relevant, it's pretty clear in her decision that once the lockout is lifted, Peyton Manning is an unrestricted free agent and can sign with anyone. Should the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals finally get off their butts and rule against granting the stay to Nelson's decision, that would mean free agency would start immediately, and based on Nelson's decision, the 2010 free agency rules probably don't work.
Thus, as reported by Dan Kaplan of SBJ yesterday afternoon, the NFL is working on new rules for free agency in 2011 should the stay not be granted.
NFL PR head Greg Aiello tweeted this yesterday:
Re: reports that if forced by courts to operate w/o consent of players, rules for 2011 could be different than 2010 rules: here is our reax-
Our goal has at all times been the same – to operate under a negotiated set of procedures that are agreed to by the clubs and NFLPA...
The current litigation has created a significant amount of uncertainty and we are therefore considering...
...we are therefore considering a wide range of alternatives depending on developments.
I've tried to prepare all of you for this, and I hope we've been thorough in our approach: There is a possibility that Peyton Manning will not re-sign with the Colts.
Anyone thinking that franchise tags or any other rules will prevent Peyton from signing elsewhere is living in a fantasy world. Judge Nelson's decision (which was the correct one in this opinion of this blog) made it clear Peyton is 'suffering harm' by not being able to negotiate his contract on an 'open market.'
Open markets don't include things like franchise tags.
Now, to the NFL's credit, they aren't so stupid as to just assume the 2010 rules will be a-okay with a federal court order. Thus, they are exploring 'alternatives.' As fans, we need to prepare ourselves for what those alternatives could be. Hopefully, the Polians are doing the same thing.