Critical Week For NFL

By Barry Wilner, AP Pro Football Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Deadlines no longer are in the distance for the NFL and the players’ union. The collective bargaining agreement expires Thursday night, and the owners could lock out the players.

Even before that, though, the Players Association is likely to decertify to prevent a lockout and take its chances in court.

Both sides will resume meeting with a federal mediator Tuesday and probably Wednesday in Washington; seven recent sessions brought little progress. The 32 team owners have meetings Wednesday and Thursday in nearby Chantilly, Va., where they will be briefed on the status of negotiations before deciding on the next step.

Just ahead stands the unthinkable: a labor shutdown in America’s most prosperous and popular sport.

“Everything is hypothetical right now,” new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “I’m just optimistic we can get something done.”

If the league locks out the players, everything stops except the NFL draft on April 28-30 — and any interviews or workouts teams conduct with college players leading up to the draft. After that, teams can’t contact their picks, nor can they sign undrafted rookies.

Veterans also will be in limbo, with no offseason workouts (OTAs) or minicamps held. The longer the impasse lasts, the more in jeopardy training camps, the preseason and — gasp! — the regular season become.

The financial losses are almost incalculable, but would grow by tens of millions of dollars the longer the work stoppage lasts. The NFL is a $9 billion industry, but not when it comes to a halt. Should the union decertify, something it did in 1989, only to reform, individual players would seek a court injunction preventing a lockout. Players on every team approved decertification in votes during the season.

But going through the courts can be a long, winding journey.

——

AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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