The NFL has told its teams and players to get back to football, at least for now.
In a memo released Thursday, just hours before the draft, the NFL said players could resume voluntary workouts at team facilities, meet with coaches and go over playbooks beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Friday. It also promised to distribute detailed procedures for signing free agents or making trades and other roster moves.
That memo, the league says, will spell out the timing for the start of the league year. Based on the league's statement, players will not be allowed to be traded during the first round.
The NFL still hopes the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis restores the lockout. The court says players must respond to the league's request for a stay by 1 p.m. ET Friday. Then the league has until 10 a.m. ET Monday to respond to that filing.
The NFL's request for a temporary stay is still pending before the court.
Clerk Michael E. Gans told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that a ruling on the NFL's request for a temporary stay of the lower court's ruling could come as early as Thursday afternoon.
Gans said a three-judge panel is expected to be formed Thursday afternoon and that panel will consider the evidence already filed with the appeals court -- a temporary stay request from the league and a reply letter from a lawyer representing NFL players -- and issue a ruling from the bench.
"That is the next step in this process," Gans said. "They will take a look at the evidence already filed and determined if a temporary stay is granted sometime [Thursday]."
If the temporary stay is granted, the lockout will be back in place.
For now, there are some guidelines for NFL teams to follow.
"Clubs are free to contact players immediately to advise them of the hours that the facility will be open for their use, to schedule medical and rehabilitation activity, and to arrange meetings with coaches or related activity, such as film study or classroom work," the NFL said.
The memo was released even as the court fight over how to run the $9 billion business escalated, and attorneys told players that a judge's decision lifting the lockout "is in full, immediate force."
Player attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and James Quinn wrote that the league year "now has to begin," that players must be allowed to lift weights at team facilities, meet with coaches "and otherwise perform their jobs."
"It is our view that the NFL and the clubs will be in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order," the memo said.
On Thursday morning, NFL players asked the 8th Circuit to ignore the league's request to temporarily put the lockout back in place. A letter sent to the appeals court by players' attorneys said there was no risk of harm to the league and promised a full rebuttal by midday Friday. Until then, the players asked the appeals court to keep things status quo.
The NFLPA said in its memo that U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's ruling Wednesday night, which denied the league's request to stay her decision to lift the lockout, leaves little to interpretation.
"We believe the 2011 League Year now has to begin; the Clubs must open their facilities to allow players to work out, meet with coaches and otherwise perform their jobs; and the NFL and the Clubs cannot collectively continue to refuse to deal with players," Kessler and Quinn wrote.
In their motion for a stay of Nelson's order filed Wednesday night with the 8th Circuit, the league said her decision "blinks reality" and is "deeply flawed."
The NFL complained that the order has forced teams to "produce their collective product" and expose themselves to antitrust claims by the players -- claims that if held true can result in treble, or triple, damages. An antitrust lawsuit filed by Tom Brady, Drew Brees and other players is still pending before Nelson, but has not been heard.
The NFL argued that a stay is necessary to avoid irreparable harm to league operations, even quoting an unidentified NFLPA executive: "If the lockout is lifted and a stay isn't granted, it could be utter chaos."
Without a stay, the NFL said, it would be impossible to "unscramble the egg in terms of player transactions that would occur in the interim" before a ruling from the appeals court.
In the 23-page motion, the league reiterated three main arguments it unsuccessfully made to Nelson: that she had no jurisdiction while a bad-faith negotiation charge against the players is pending with the National Labor Relations Board; that federal law prevents the court from overseeing cases stemming from labor disputes; and that it shouldn't be subject to antitrust claims with the collective bargaining deal barely expired.
The league said Nelson "brushed aside all three legal obstacles with the simple rationale that the NFLPA's unilateral disclaimer changes everything and renders the labor laws irrelevant."
The NFL, citing comments by players Mike Vrabel and Derrick Mason, argued again that the union's breakup was only temporary and tactical and not permanent.
League rules have effectively been shelved since the collective bargaining agreement ended March 11 and the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987 began. Information from ESPN's Sal Paolantonio and The Associated Press was used in this report.