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March 11, 2011
NFL labor situation: The abridged version

Here's the dumb guy's guide to why labor talks broke down today: The owners said the players union never budged during weeks of negotiations. The players said the owners never gave them a reason to budge. That is, they never demonstrated the supposed financial straits that would prompt the players to accept less money.

And so here were are at the first step - union decertification - in what could be a series of legal moves that threaten to eat up the traditional NFL offseason. Here's where things are likely to go from here, although all of it is up in the air and most of it will depend on rulings by federal judge David Doty, the arbiter of grievances or issues between the league and the players. Doty has mostly ruled on the players' side in past cases, which is why the union decertified this afternoon.

Decertification allows them to try to legally block a lockout by the owners. That lockout could occur as soon as the current collective bargaining agreement ends at 9 p.m. (PST). The lockout has been the undesirable scenario we've been discussing for months - one in which there can be no trades, no signings, no player contact whatsoever until a new labor deal is signed. The only offseason event that would survive is the draft, but even then those drafted players could not be signed and could not even set foot inside their new team's facility.

The players could block a lockout with an injunction (granted by Doty). The league, however, likely would appeal that ruling. There are other legal maneuvers afoot as well, which is why most observers see this issue in the court system for the near future. At any point, the two sides could agree to a new deal and - poof! -- all the legal wrangling would be dropped.

As Pro Football Talk points out, Doty also could compel the league to remain open, which means that free agency could begin after the league year expires - a 9:01 p.m. My guess is that the wheels of justice won't operate that quickly. But I'm prepared to brew a pot of Colombia's best - coffee, if there are any DEA agents reading - just in case.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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