As we've already heard, the biggest story of the day coming out of Winter Park was that Judge Gary Larson ruled that the state trial of Pat and Kevin Williams in the StarCaps fiasco would be stayed until after the 2009 NFL season. What does this mean for the best defensive tackle duo in the National Football League? It means that, barring one final hurdle, both men will be able to play the entire 2009 season without the threat of a suspension looming over their heads.
The last hurdle is a case that will be heard by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on 18 August. Pro Football Talk puts this better than I could. . .
The league had wanted Judge Larson to stay the case only until a federal appeals court determines whether a federal district judge properly sent the case back to state court based on the conclusion that two claims brought under Minnesota statutory law supersede the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the NFLPA. The league also wanted Judge Larson to proceed with a trial during the 2009 season, if the federal appeals court rules that the case properly can be pursued in state court.
Larson has opted not to let the NFL have it both ways. Thus, the case won't proceed until after the season.
Then again, if the federal appeals court finds that the federal district judge got it wrong, the state court case won't proceed at all, and the four-game suspensions will be implemented, as required by the CBA.
The federal judge that heard the Williams' case, Judge Magnuson, sent the case back to state court, as Florio says in the above-quoted passage. The trial on the 18th is to determine whether or not the federal law applies to this case, in which case, the suspensions will be upheld and the state case will cease. . .or whether Judge Magnuson did the right thing in deciding that this was a state matter and not a federal one. So, we'll know on 18 August whether the Williams Wall is going to miss the first four games of 2009. . .which, as we've detailed, might not be all that big a tragedy. . .or whether or not they'll play the entire season. There's not going to be any in-between. Why? Because, as Judge Larson said. . .
If the federal court determines the case should be conducted in state court, Larson wrote, "it is not likely that the [Hennepin County] court would, or could force [the players] into trial during the middle of a playing season, based on the court's schedule."
See, as Florio said, the NFL wanted to have it both ways, and Larson told them to bugger off. They wanted the federal appeals court to push this through as fast as possible, and they also wanted the state case to proceed during the 2009 season so that Pat and Kevin Williams would have to deal with it throughout the course of the year. And, quite frankly, it serves them right, considering that the NFL failed to inform their players about a substance that they, from every meaningful account, knew contained an illegal substance.
If it turns out that state law is the applicable law in this case, it's entirely possible that the NFL will have gone from attempting to use Pat and Kevin Williams as the poster boys for their holier-than-thou, completely subjective "substance abuse policy" to being made to look like fools by the court system and two players that actually had the gall to know what their legal rights were and fought to maintain their reputation and their good names. If Judge Magnuson's ruling stands. . .and there's absolutely no reason to think that it shouldn't, from all accounts. . .then the league would be well served to try to work out some sort of settlement with the Irresistible Force and the Immovable Object prior to the state case being heard.
Of course, since Roger Goodell feels that he's above the law, I wouldn't actually expect that to happen. After all, we all know the difference between Roger Goodell and God, right?
God doesn't think he's Roger Goodell.
So, after having a dark cloud hanging over them since the initial StarCaps findings late in the 2008 season, it appears that the sun might be coming out for the best defensive tackle duo in the National Football League. And after sunrise, the defense that's lapped the field compared to every other NFC North defense. . .by a considerable margin, and anyone that disagrees is just fooling themselves. . .will be completely intact and ready to rock on 13 September in Cleveland.