The dominant question at the NFL owners meetings in Atlanta is: When will the owners lift the lockout if each side approves a negotiated settlement of the antitrust and TV lawsuits today?
It's a simple question with a potentially complex answer.
As part of a deal to open its doors, the league wants the Players Association to agree to recertify as a union. However even if the players agree in principle to do so, it's unclear how long it would take to complete the process. The 32 player representatives discussed the matter of recertification but did not vote on it Wednesday in Washington.
Sources say the league believes it could be done in the relative blink of an eye. However the players might want a longer, more formal process after NFL attorneys argued that decertification of the Players Association in March was a sham.
There is concern among some players that if they recertify too quickly, it would support the league's claims and might be used against them the next time the sides are stuck in a similar situation during collective bargaining negotiations.
Beyond that, some players believe they're better off as a professional trade association because that would allow them to maintain their antitrust rights and sue the league -- as individuals or a class -- over things like restraint of trade or suppression of wages.
On the other side of the table, NFL officials wants the players to recertify not only because it would take the antitrust issue out of the equation, but also because it would give them the authority to collectively bargain uniform working conditions for each team. Without a players union, individual clubs would establish their own policies and guidelines for things like player discipline and drug testing.
"I certainly remember comments from some of the owners about how we might not even be like a real union. Well, guess what? The decision to decertify was important, because at the time we were a real union," DeMaurice Smith said outside NFLPA headquarters in Washington. "And the decision for our players, as men, to come back as a union is going to be an equally serious and very sober one that they have to make."
The NFL declined comment about whether it would be a deal-breaker if the players refused to recertify as a union. The expectation is that the players will do so. But when? That answer ultimately could determine how quickly the owners lift the lockout.