Lockout'11: Michael Stipe called it

As most of you know by now, the NFL's collective bargaining agreement will expire at 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday night. Barring an unexpected last-minute agreement, that means we'll enter an unprecedented state of NFL operations beginning at midnight. As Michael Stipe sang for REM: It's the end of the world as we know it.

The first thing we have to watch for Thursday is whether the NFL Players Association decertifies itself and begins operating as a trade association as a strategy to prevent a lockout. ESPN.com's Lester Munson offers an excellent primer on what decertification means if you're interested, and Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post notes how risky -- and potentially rewarding -- it is for the players.

The bottom line is we're most likely to have one of two scenarios by Friday:

  1. The NFL fighting the union's decision to decertify

  2. The NFL locking out the union if there is no decertification

Either way, we'll be in labor limbo come Friday. There will be no free-agent market, no trades and no offseason workouts or contact of any kind between players and teams.

We, of course, will still post and discuss issues under the presumption that one day the NFL will return to normal. I'll keep you updated on the labor issue as warranted, but there is plenty of football on the table for us to discuss. I have a deep pool of emergency lockout post ideas, and there is nothing that U.S. District Judge David Doty can do about that one.