The NFL Players Asscoiation began collecting signatures for possible decertification in March, league sources said Saturday.
Decertification is one tact the players' union could take this spring to negate a potential lockout and begin a process through the court system toward a possible resolution of the labor impasse with NFL owners.
The collective bargaining agreement is scheduled to expire in March, and decertification could allow the NFLPA to sue the league in an attempt to prevent owners from locking players out of offseason activities.
If the NFLPA decertifies, it would, in effect, cease to become a union. If the league then attempted to lockout the players, they could sue the NFL under U.S. antitrust laws. However, the NFL also could challenge that decertification.
Regardless, the NFLPA, rather than wait until March to vote on decertifying, is conducting voting on a team-by-team basis now. That began last week with the New Orleans Saints, who unanimously passed the measure, according to sources.
The process will continue as union head DeMaurice Smith meets with each team during the season.
"This is a procedural thing only," is how one NFLPA official put it. "It's easier to collect 1,900 signatures now than in March."
If the NFLPA is successful in an effort to decertify, then the collective bargaining process would end, and individual players could seek antitrust lawsuits. This is similar to action the union took in past labor negotiations that resulted in the Reggie White lawsuit and a system of free agency beginning in 1993. As that case unfolded from 1989 to 1993, the games continued.
By decertifying, the union also could challenge the NFL should it try to implement a new labor system.