We don’t like to give you back-to-back Lockout Watch! posts, but this was unavoidable. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the league in its appeal of Judge Susan Nelson’s decision to lift the lockout.

The decision itself isn’t surprising, but the timing is borderline shocking. It was believed that the Court was going to wait for the two sides to either settle or break off talks before announcing a decision. Ideally, the Eighth Circuit wouldn’t have had to rule at all. But five weeks after the case was heard in a St. Louis courtroom, they’ve delivered a verdict.

In a 2-1 decision, they ruled that the Norris-LaGuardia Act doesn’t allow the courts to block lockouts by way of preliminary injunctions. Thus, if the league desires, the lockout can continue indefinitely, or until the players win an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Hopefully this doesn’t interfere with the progress reportedly being made in negotiations between the NFL and the trade organization formerly known as the NFLPA. The fact that the ruling was expected to go this way should mean that it won’t severely alter the process, but there’s no telling how DeMaurice Smith and Co. will react to what is surely a blow to the ego.

UPDATE: Further review of the ruling by people who are smarter than us confirms that the decision is indeed one that “neither side will like.” Here’s a very important caveat: rookies and free agents are exempt from the ruling, and can file an injunction with Judge Nelson. If she rules in their favor (which is expected), teams could be forced to start signing those players in the midst of a work stoppage. That would be chaotic, and is reason enough for the owners to feel pressure to get this deal done now.