There could be a rift opening in the NFL Players Association.
A group consisting of as many as 70 players is close to signing with a law firm in order to intervene in the Tom Brady antitrust case, the Sports Business Daily reported on its website Wednesday, citing unnamed sources. The group of players isn't contesting the earlier lawsuit but wants a place at the mediation table, according to the report, so the group can explain its take on the labor dispute.
With the lockout in its 40th day, the NFL and its players wrapped up their court-ordered talks Wednesday. An attorney for the team owners, Jeff Pash, says a federal judge told both sides Wednesday that they probably won't convene again until May 16 -- nearly a month away.
Whereas the plaintiffs in the earlier lawsuit filed by 10 players consisted of some of the biggest names in the NFL -- Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning -- this new group comprises mid-tier players, according to the Sports Business Daily.
The new group of players, which the Sports Business Daily said could not yet be identified -- is reportedly unhappy that earlier mediation talks ended in Washington last month before the NFLPA filed for decertification.
"We've had discussions about representing some additional players who want to have a voice in the matter," said Bryan Clobes of Cafferty Faucher.
But Clobes said the number is "nowhere near 70" and that it does not indicate any dissatisfaction with the way things are progressing.
"The players have extremely capable counsel," Clobes said. "If we were to get involved, it would be so we could add and lend our expertise, not because we thought the current lawyers were not doing a credible job. They're doing an incredible job."
DeMaurice Smith, the head of the players' trade association, said he was unaware of the report.
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel, one of the plaintiffs in the Brady case, told ESPN's Ed Werder in Minneapolis during a break in Wednesday's mediation session -- ordered two weeks ago by a federal judge -- that he was unaware of the report but said everybody on the players side is unhappy with how the original mediation attempt ended in Washington.
Vrabel said that abandoning the cause in this way would be the wrong way to demonstrate dissatisfaction.
"We all have a seat at the table already. If they're unhappy, then we should get together and elect a new executive board," he said.
Some things have to happen, however, before the intervention is filed, the Sports Business Daily reported. The law firm wants at least 75 players on board before filing the intervention, and the firm has to resolve a minor conflict, which was not identified in the report. If these issues are solved, the new group of players could file by the end of this week.
It has been two weeks since U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered the Brady suit and the NFL back to the negotiating table. She is expected to decide soon on the players' request to lift the lockout, which is the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987. Her decision almost certainly will be appealed.
"That is the judge's decision," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a conference call Wednesday with New York Giants season-ticket holders during a break in the fourth day of mediation. "She will make that ruling when she is prepared to do it, and at that point in time we all will respect the ruling and we will get back to the point where we are negotiating."
The two sides spent four days with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, following 16 days of failed talks in front of a federal mediator in Washington.
Some have questioned whether the two sides were committed to negotiating while awaiting Nelson's ruling. But Goodell said all parties involved remain committed to the process.
"I think fans want solution. I want solutions," he said. "I think the players want solutions and I think the teams want solutions. That's why we have to be working at it in negotiations and figuring out how to get to that point."
With appeals expected, there isn't a ton of time left when it comes to the 2011 season. The NFL released its regular-season schedule Tuesday night, announcing that the season will open Thursday, Sept. 8, with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers hosting the New Orleans Saints.
That's less than five months away, with free agency, trades and other roster decisions still up in the air while the lockout is in place.
The announcement of the schedule came with a big if, of course. The longer the labor strife drags through the court system, the more danger is posed to actual games being canceled.
"We have to identify the solutions and get it done," Goodell said. "It is tough for me to project. We're going to continue to make the preparations for the season and work as hard as we can to solve those issues in advance so we can play every game and every down of the season."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.