In another setback for NFL owners, the federal judge who ordered them to lift the lockout denied their request to push the pause button on her ruling.
The league wanted U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson to keep the lockout in place while it appealed her ruling, but Nelson wrote late Wednesday that the NFL "has not met its burden for a stay pending appeal, expedited or otherwise."
Nelson wrote: "In short, the world of 'chaos' the NFL claims it has been thrust into — essentially the 'free-market' system this nation otherwise willfully operates under — is not compelled by this court's order."
In her decision, she said that all lockout rules are over and that the league year must start immediately. Although she said no team is required to sign free agents, clubs must open their facilities and allow workouts.
League spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday night that the NFL planned to immediately ask the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to consider on an expedited basis both a stay of Nelson's lifting of the lockout and an appeal of the ruling itself.
"We believe there are strong legal and practical reasons that support a stay," Aiello said in an email.
Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead attorney, said earlier this week that the league was looking for "a greater degree of clarity" before reopening its doors for business.
"What we'd like to avoid for everyone's benefit is a situation where you're trying to unscramble an egg," Pash said.
Players had written to the judge to argue against a stay of her ruling, saying both they and the league would be harmed by a continuation of the lockout.
The league, meanwhile, said it wanted to keep the lockout in place until there was more clarity about how to proceed — and until the 8th Circuit could consider Nelson's ruling — thereby postponing free agency and other football matters.
"We are in a period of uncertainty and that is something you want to remove," Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday, before the request for a stay was denied. "It's one of the things I don't think is healthy for the players, the clubs and most importantly our fans. So the sooner we can get rid of that uncertainty, the better."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.