NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith speaks as he...

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith speaks as he and a group of player representatives arrive for labor talks in Washington Friday. (Mar. 11, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

The NFL’s labor unrest is headed for court.

After 16 days of mediated talks with the NFL, the players’ union decertified this evening, clearing the way for individual players to file antitrust lawsuits against the league. The owners opted out of the CBA in 2008 and the deal, which was due to expire last week before an 11th-hour extension, will expire tonight at midnight. The owners are expected to lockout the players at that time.

Among the players who are litigants in the lawsuit, which has already been filed in U.S. District Court to prevent a lockout, are Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning along with Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

The union's latest move sets the stage for a lengthy court fight that could potentially threaten the 2011 season. The last work stoppage came when the players struck 24 years ago, leading to games with replacement players.

In 1989, the NFLPA also decertified. Antitrust lawsuits by players forced a new CBA in 1993 that included free agency, and the union formed again that year.

Earlier today, union head DeMaurice Smith told reporters that he had “informed the owners that ... if there was going to be a request for an extension, that we asked for 10 years of audited financial information to accompany that extension.” That announcement was made at about 4:45 p.m. By 5 p.m. the union had decertified.

"The parties have not achieved an overall agreement," federal mediator George Cohen said, "nor have they been able to resolve the strongly held competing positions that separated them on core issues.

"No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time."

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