Even as his players are claiming a modest victory, if that, after Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted a preliminary injunction blocking the league's lockout, DeMaurice Smith was more emphatic.
"We're thrilled that it looks like football might be on," the executive director of the NFL Players Association said Monday night.
Speaking to ESPN, Smith added: "If we're in a world where players are actually suing so they can play football ... that tells me we've lost our way."
While the NFL lost this first step in litigation, it appealed the ruling a couple hours later.
Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, put the granting of the preliminary injunction in football terms.
"The players started on their own 20-yard line and I think they gained 15 or 20 yards," Roberts said, "but there's a long way to the end zone.
"We expected it, based on the questions she asked at the oral arguments. We knew where she was leaning."
Bills safety George Wilson confirmed late Monday that the NFLPA emailed players suggesting they report to work Tuesday. He said players were told they should be granted access under normal circumstances and if they are denied access the teams would be in violation of the judge's ruling.
Wilson had not heard from any Bills players who said they would report to the facility Tuesday.
Several agents suggested that players will begin reporting to team facilities Tuesday unless an immediate stay of the injunction is granted. Others were advising their players to hold back for now.
"Just hold tight, let the dust settle," Ralph Cindrich said in an email to The Associated Press. "Much of this is new ground. Doors likely locked until appeal is over."
After calling Nelson's decision "definitely a major, major victory for the players," Kevin Poston said of the NFL seeking a stay:
"I know it's going to be hard for a judge to overrule another judge unless there was some major error in law that we don't know about. But no one knows what happens now to free agency, to undrafted free agents and minicamps now that the lockout has been lifted. We still have to hear some details from the judge over the next couple of days and those details will be important."
Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who is a free agent, is one of the nine NFL players who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"Football is back to business, but guess what? There's no rules," Leber said. "There's a lot of positive to that, but there's also a lot of negatives."
Indeed, there are many more questions than answers. Leber said he was initially worried about what would happen to a player if an injury occurred during a workout at a team facility, but he said he was assured by NFLPA leadership that liability should not be a concern.
"We should feel free to try to get workouts in and try to resume any sort of normalcy that we had before," Leber said.
"By no means does this mean that we as the players have all the leverage or have an outright outlook that we're in the winning position right now, because there's still a long way to go," said Wilson, who served as the team's union player representative before decertification on March 11.
"But it's definitely encouraging to see that we got the information in the right hands, and the judge took the time to take an objective look at all the information and make a decision that's in the best interest of the league as a whole."
Kicker Jay Feely, Arizona's player rep before the NFL Players Association dissolved, was more vociferous in reacting to the decision.
"The players have said all along, 'The law is on our side.' Judge Nelson's ruling reaffirms our contention," Feely said.
"I know whenever I'm told I can go back to the building, I'll be one of the first guys in there," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Every time you hear there might be news, it makes you think, 'Oh, it's time to go.' But you've just got to be patient. We all want to play, and the schedule coming out makes you excited, then it's hurry up and wait."
Many of his peers are looking at the long term. New York Jets guard Brandon Moore called it a good day for the players, but recognized "there's still some legal wrangling that needs to go on."
"This has been frustrating," Moore said. "You're working out on your own, trying to set up drills, trying to find a field somewhere, trying to find a time to get together. I mean, we're professional athletes here. We shouldn't be going through this. On the same token, these were the only cards we were left with."
It's a high-stakes poker game as the owners and players wrangle over more than $9 billion in revenues. Seth Borden, a labor law expert at McKenna, Long and Aldridge in New York, emphasized that Nelson stuck strictly to one topic in a multifaceted dispute.
"The judge was very clear that the ultimate resolution of the players' claims against the league is not dealt with in this," Borden said. "Only one issue she has addressed here: whether or not the effort of the owners to disallow the players from playing at this time potentially violates the antitrust laws."
"It certainly tilts some leverage back toward the players. The major piece of leverage the owners were employing throughout this dispute was the ability to disallow the players from playing. ... For the time being, this judge has said they cannot do so."
So what will the players do, at least until a stay is granted — if it is granted?
"If they are in town," agent Joe Linta said, "I would tell them to show up at 8 a.m. with a cup of coffee and their lunch box."