If Federal Court Judge Susan Nelson rejects the owner's appeal to stay the lockout, the owners are expected to request a stay from the Appellate Court in St. Louis once Nelson's decision is made. In terms of the NFL's offseason, we're uncertain if Nelson's upcoming decision to reject the owner's stay would invite the return of normal operations or if the NFL will choose to delay on a decision by the Appellate Court in St. Louis (another avenue the owners are expected to take). Contempt of court be damned.
As a hardcore fanatic of the NFL and football in general, we can only hope that the two sides work together and agree to a lasting Collective Bargaining Agreement. That being said, if the appeals process ends favorably for the players and the lockout is permanently lifted, the NFL will have to decide which rules to use. The 2009 rules, which implemented a salary cap and four years of free agency, seems preferable.
If you're the Bengals and there's no new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it would benefit the Bengals to push for last season's rules without a salary cap.
In the seasons preceding 2010, the CBA required four years of service for a player to qualify for unrestricted free agency. When the league entered the final year of the old CBA (aka the uncapped year in 2010), that number jumped to six seasons.
If the league implemented the 2010 rules, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, expected to be in demand during free agency, has only five seasons of service under his belt and would, by definition, be a restricted free agent. Cincinnati would be granted an opportunity to match any offer sheet Joseph signs with another team, offering compensation based on the level Joseph was tendered if the Bengals decide not to match the other team's offer.
Same applies to Brandon Johnson. Based on the 2009 rules, Johnson would become an unrestricted free agent with five years of service this year. With a desire to start in the NFL and players like Keith Rivers starting at weakside linebacker, Johnson, who was typically the coverage linebacker in nickel situations, would leave for more playing time and an opportunity to start. With the 2010 rules, Johnson is only a restricted free agent dealing with the same scenario that Joseph is. Additionally, this allows the Bengals an opportunity to test the waters by letting Johnson become the team's strong-side linebacker and seeing if he can play the position.
But most importantly, by keeping Joseph and Johnson around another season, two key contributors on the defense in recent years, it extends negotiations for a possible long-term deal.