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Lockout block? Union seeks to decertify before CBA expires

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indications from multiple sources are the NFL Players Association will decertify before the end of the current collective bargaining agreement, but according to one NFLPA source Saturday it's "not a rock-solid guarantee that we will."

If the union does decertify, the plan in place is to do so prior to the expiration of the CBA at 11:59 p.m. ET on March 3, absent any breakthrough in talks. The union would then seek an injunction to block a potential lockout.

That would, in effect, press the pause button on the process until a ruling is found on the injunction.

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The NFLPA would take this course of action to ensure the injunction goes before Judge David Doty, who's jurisdiction over this case ends on March 3. If the NFLPA waited until after the expiration of the CBA, the union would have to wait six months to decertify.

The union already has secured the necessary votes from players to decertify. The NFL is expected to contest decertification, and the league already has filed one claim against the NFLPA with the National Labor Relations Board. The board said Wednesday it has no timetable for investigating the NFL's claim.

At this point there are four likely scenarios that would take place March 4: a new deal is struck, the sides opt to extend the negotiating period, the union decertifies or the owners vote for a lockout.

In order for the NFL and NFLPA to agree to extend the negotiating window, the league would have to propose it to the union, the union would have to agree, and Judge Doty would have to ratify the extension.

That process requires paperwork and time, so in all likelihood an agreement to extend the window to negotiate would have to be struck by March 2 to ensure sufficient time for all of that to take place.

The sides concluded seven consecutive days of federal mediation on Thursday, agreeing to return to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on March 1 at the request of mediator George H. Cohen.

"Our time together has been devoted to establishing an atmosphere conducive to meaningful negotiations and, of course, matters of process and substance," Cohen said in a statement released Thursday. "I can report that throughout this extensive period, the parties engaged in a highly focused, constructive dialogue concerning a host of issues covering both the economics and player-related conditions.

"The tenor of across-the-board discussions reflected a noteworthy level of mutual respect even in the face of strongly held competing positions."

But Cohen added, "Some progress was made, but very strong differences remain on the all-important core issues."

The ownership's labor committee convened on Friday at the Colts' facility in suburban Indianapolis, getting an update on the negotiations that took place this past week in front of Cohen.

League officials who took part in the federal mediation -- including Commissioner Roger Goodell, general council Jeff Pash and outside council Bob Batterman -- briefed the ownership group on the happenings of those seven days. In attendance were committee co-chairs Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers) and Pat Bowlen (Denver Broncos) as well as Art Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers), Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs), Mark Murphy (Green Bay Packers), John Mara (New York Giants), Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Dean Spanos (San Diego Chargers), Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals) and Robert Kraft (New England Patriots).

No owners were in attendance in Washington.

The league officials also spent 45 minutes Friday updating team decision-makers about the mediation and possible contingency plans if the current CBA expires March 3 without a new agreement in place. The NFL Players Association has assumed the owners will lock players out on March 4.

Tuesday's meeting back at the FMCS runs right into an owners meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in nearby Chantilly, Va.

NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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