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NFLPA Decertifies: Lockout Next?

The NFL owners and players have decided to take their argument over $1 Billion to court. Negotiations between the two parties broke down this afternoon and the NFL Players Union filed papers to disband.

The owners are demanding that they get to take a total of $2 Billion off the top of revenues (which reached a record $9 Billion this past year.) Currently the owners take $1 Billion before splitting the rest 60-40 with the players.

Many players believe that the owners are looking for a bigger cut of the NFL revenue pie so they can build new stadiums in the mold of Jerry's World.

With decertification, the players union becomes a trade association that players could be a member of voluntarily. This would allow the players to file an antitrust suit, alleging that such NFL practices as restricted free agency, the franchise tag and the salary cap violate antitrust laws restrict an individual player’s ability to earn money or change teams. The decertification move came about because the current collective bargaining agreement -- which ends at midnight tonight, has a clause that prohibits the NFLPA from filing an antitrust case until six months after the current agreement expires if the players association decertifies after its expiration.

There is an alternative to the NFL locking out the players. They could implement what is called their "last and best offer." where the NFL owners would put into place the last offer they gave players association before talks broke down. With decertification, it would end up in court, and there is a scenario where football would be played under the "last and best offer" provisions while the court case is pending. This happened in 1989 when the NFLPA decertified and didn't reform until 1993.

The Players Assocation obviously is taking a calculated risk with this move. They immediately lose all their CBA rights such as medical insurance and their pension. Group licensing rights the NFLPA controlled are also now also gone.

But the NFL doesn't have a great record in court battles with the players. Just last week U.S. District Court Judge David Doty ruled in favor of the NFL Players Association with regards to their claim that the NFL had stockpiled a "strike fund" of $4 Billion in TV money that they were to collect even if there were no games in 2011. The players contended that the NFL left money on the table in negotiating the television contracts in return for provisions allowing for the NFL to receive full payment in the event of a lockout.

The judge's ruling overturned a decision of Special Master Stephen Burbank, who found the NFL could act in its own self-interest.

If the NFL institutes a lockout, no offseason workouts or minicamps would be held. Right now 25% of the players in the NFL are eligible for a form of free agency -- they could not be signed. There would still be an NFL draft, but after getting a telephone call telling them they had been drafted, no rookie could have any contact with their prospective employer.

With today's decertification of the Players Association the next move is to court, where no doubt lawyers will collect a lot of the money that the owners and players are fighting over.