If the NFL and NFLPA fail to reach a new collective-bargaining agreement by Friday's 5 p.m. deadline, it could set off a sequence of events that could affect the league dramatically, both in the short term and long term. Here's a question-and-answer on the issues that could arise.
What happens if there is no deal?
The league and the players association could agree to another extension of negotiations, something that already has happened twice.
However, if either side believes further negotiations would be fruitless and that there's an unwillingness to continue, the following could occur: The NFLPA could decertify -- or essentially dissolve and cease to operate as a union. If that were to happen, individual players could sue the NFL on antitrust grounds; quarterbacks Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady already have volunteered to serve as plaintiffs.
If the union decertifies, what does the NFL do?
The NFL is expected to institute a lockout of the players in the event of an NFLPA decertification. A lockout, for all practical purposes, would shut down the league's operations for the immediate future.
However, if the NFL did announce a lockout after a decertification, the union would ask federal judge David Doty, who oversees NFL collective-bargaining issues, for a temporary injunction to have the lockout lifted.
If Doty granted the injunction, the NFL would appeal the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, although it probably would take at least two months for a ruling.
If a temporary injunction were to be granted to lift a lockout, what would happen next?
If Doty granted the injunction, the NFL would have to resume normal business operations under a set of rules it determined to be appropriate. In all likelihood, the system would be similar to the one used last year, when there was no salary cap, and unrestricted free agency would be granted to players with at least six years' experience. The free-agency signing period could begin as soon as next week if the injunction were granted. However, if the NFL won an appeal of the injunction in the Eighth Circuit, the league would cease operations and the lockout would resume.
Could the two sides still negotiate if there is a decertification and a lockout, and could federal mediator George Cohen still be involved?
Yes. There could be negotiations at any time, and even though the union would have decertified, the NFL still could negotiate with NFLPA officials in much the same way it has. Cohen, who has overseen talks at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services building in Washington, could continue to work with the two sides.
Will the 2011 draft still be held if there is a lockout?
Yes. The draft, scheduled for April 28-30 at Radio City Music Hall, will be held regardless of whether there is a lockout.
If there is a lockout, will the 2011 season be played?
It remains to be seen. If the sides can reach agreement on a new CBA in time to play games -- realistically, a deal would have to be in place no later than late August or early September -- the season could proceed. It's possible some games would have to be canceled if the talks dragged on into September or October. There also is the chance that the entire season would be scrapped if there is no agreement.
Will there be games with replacement players, as there were in the 1987 season?
No. The NFL has said it would not use replacement players to play games if there is no CBA. The league could use replacement players under terms of a lockout, but it insists it has no plans to do so.