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Report: Players' Association came moments from decertifying

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff  March 7, 2011 11:29 AM

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As the talks between the NFL and the Players' Association dragged on last Thursday, the NFLPA faced a major decision: whether or not to decertify the union.

Decertification -- which players on all 32 teams voted in favor of last season in the event of a lockout -- could and would alter the NFL landscape in numerous ways, but first and foremost it would allow an injunction to be filed to block a lockout. It would also allow players to sue the league for alleged antitrust violations; last week, it was reported that Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees would be the lead plaintiffs in such a suit.

As time ticked away Thursday, the day the current collective bargaining agreement was set to expire, the Players' Association had until 5 p.m. that day to notify Judge David Doty that it was decertifying.

According to a piece by Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter as part of this morning's Monday Morning Quarterback, the union came perilously close to doing just that.

Trotter writes that just five minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline, an unnamed player walked into the negotiating room with Smith, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and league attorney Jeff Pash and declared: "We're done! We're decertifying!"

At that point the aforementioned player -- whose name is being withheld because of the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations -- walked into the room upstairs, tapped Mawae on the shoulder and made a quick hand-across-the-throat gesture while making his decertification declaration.

According to sources, the union had a member of its legal team on the phone with the clerk of the court in Minneapolis, where Judge Doty presides over the case. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and the league agreed to the first of two extensions. Still, if anything could be taken from that brief glimpse behind the curtains, it's that the players know the issues and are prepared to stand up to the men who run the country's most powerful sports league.

Trotter quotes a player familiar with negotiations as saying that the players feel as though they've "bent over backwards" to try to appease the owners, without any success.

An NFL source, predictably, tells Trotter a different story, saying the league feels it has been "fully engaged and fully responsive" over the last two years, making proposals and counter-proposals.

Thursday evening, the league agreed to a 24-hour extension of talks, and on Friday the two sides agreed to a seven-day extension. After taking the weekend off (those two days do count toward the seven), the two sides met for four hours Monday afternoon in Washington D.C. at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service offices.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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