The New Orleans Saints voted 59-0 to authorize the National Football League Players Association to decertify as a union if collective bargaining talks should eventually reach an impasse, according to union and player sources.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith asked the Saints to vote on the strategic procedure when he met with the team in New Orleans. The Saints voted on the issue Monday.
The union will send a memo to its approximately 1,900 members Monday to inform them of the strategy that is being described as a housekeeping step.
Contacted Saturday afternoon by ESPN, Smith downplayed the importance of the Saints' vote and the anticipation that all 32 teams will eventually take the same action.
"To be dead honest, it's purely procedural and I believe it's a non-story until March," Smith said. "It preserves the best options to protect players in the event there's no deal in place when the CBA expires next March. Instead of scrambling at the 11th hour to get all our players' signatures [for decertification], we'll have everything in order. Our hope is that it's not necessary."
The union expects to complete the process with all 32 teams by Thanksgiving.
Under decertification guidelines established by the National Labor Relations Board, the union would no longer be able to represent the players in collective bargaining.
It is an action the union took that enabled individual players to seek antitrust lawsuits against the NFL and eventually provided the leverage that led to a new era of free agency in 1993.
On the NFL players association website in 2008, NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen warned of the potential union action to prevent the NFL from locking out players in 2011.
"The NFLPA would sooner go out of business as a union," Berthelsen said. "This is not just a threat, it's a reality because we did it once before."
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst.