The NFL Players Association decertified as a union, clearing the way for the negotiation over a new collective bargaining agreement to be litigated in court.
Ten players, including MVP quarterbacks quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, filed suit in federal court Friday. The antitrust suit attacks the league's policies on the draft, salary cap and free-agent restrictions such as franchise-player tags.
At 11:59 p.m. Eastern time Friday, the deadline for a new CBA would have expired and the owners could have locked out the players. By decertifying the union, there is now no union to lock out.
The league said it hadn't decided as of Friday evening whether to lock out the players, who, meanwhile, went to court to request an injunction to block such a move.
But sources told ESPN that the NFL will announce a lockout at midnight, ESPNDallas.com reported.
A hearing date in the lawsuit has not been set.
The NFL owners and NFL Players Association resumed talks this week after extending the original deadline last week. The issues at hand are largely money and how to divide the pieces of the pie.
That pie is currently estimated to be $9 billion per year, of which the owners currently get $1 billion. The players get just less than 60 percent of the remaining $8 billion.
In the end, it appeared the sides were about $185 million apart on how much owners should get up front each season for certain operating expenses before splitting the rest of the revenues with players -- a far cry from the $1 billion that separated the sides for so long.
But the NFL Players Association refused to budge any further without getting detailed financial information for each team.
Other issues being discussed are the extension of the regular season from 16 games to 18 (with the subtraction of two preseason games), the addition of a rookie salary cap and healthcare for retired players.
With the union now no longer representing the players, they are taking their chances in court. The fight could be lengthy and jeopardize the 2011 season.
Associated Press pro football writer Howard Fendrich and sports writer Dave Cambell contributed to this report.