Absent a last-minute agreement that no one around football expects, the NFL Players Association plans to decertify by Thursday in an effort to pre-empt an owners-generated lockout, according to multiple league and union sources.
The collective bargaining agreement says the NFLPA in effect must wait six months to decertify if it does it after the collective bargaining agreement expires. It expires at 11:59 p.m. Thursday night.
If the union decertifies, it is no longer a union, and the National Labor Relations Board loses its hold over the NFLPA. The owners are expected to claim the decertification is a sham and challenge it in the NLRB.
But the NFLPA is poised to act this week before it is locked out. It already has obtained unanimous approval from players across the league to decertify, a process it undertook throughout last season and the union's executive committee reaffirmed that vote this past Tuesday to empower NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith to take this action.
The primary reason for decertification would be to file for an injunction that, if granted, would prevent the owners from locking out the players. NFLPA officials and players believe that this could be the only hope to have a full NFL season next year. Furthermore, decertifying as a union prior to the expiration of the CBA would allow NFL players to seek injunctive relief and commence anti-trust action against owners in front of U.S. District Court Judge David Doty, who has had jurisdiction over the current labor agreement since 1993. Owners have attempted unsuccessfully to have Doty removed from jurisdiction and strategically want the CBA to expire to effectively eliminate his authority, a source said.
The NFL and NFLPA are scheduled to meet with federal mediator George Cohen one more time on Tuesday, yet after seven days of meetings last week, Cohen said significant differences still remain.
Commissioner Roger Goodell met Friday morning with the majority of the league's ownership labor committee at the offices of the Indianapolis Colts, a league official has confirmed, briefing the 10-man group on labor negotiations.
Nine of the 10 members of the owners' labor committee were in attendance on Friday: co-chairman Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers; Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals; Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs; Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys; Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots; Mark Murphy of the Green Bay Packers; John Mara of the New York Giants; Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers; and Dean Spanos of the San Diego Chargers.
Co-chairman Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos was absent but an official believed he participated via phone conference.
In addition to being updated by Goodell and his negotiating team, the committee was expected to honor Cohen's request to assess their positions on the "important core issues" following the past week of mediated negotiations.
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst. Adam Schefter is ESPN's NFL insider. ESPN.com senior writer Lester Munson also contributed to this report.