After 16 days of mediated talks with the NFL, the sides could not reach agreement on a new deal. The current one expires at the end of Friday, and the league could lock out its players.
By decertifying, the union clears the way for individual players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NFL, which opted out of the CBA in 2008. It renounced its right to represent the players in contract bargaining.
The CBA was due to expire a week ago and was extended twice.
The union's latest move sets the stage for a lengthy court fight that could potentially threaten the 2011 season. The last work stoppage came when the players struck 24 years ago, leading to games with replacement players.
In 1989, the NFLPA also decertified. Antitrust lawsuits by players forced a new CBA in 1993 that included free agency, and the union formed again that year.
"We met with the owners until about 4 o'clock today," union head DeMaurice Smith said outside the mediator's office. "We discussed a proposal they had presented. At this time, significant differences continue to remain. We informed the owners that ... if there was going to be a request for an extension, that we asked for 10 years of audited financial information to accompany that extension."
About 15 minutes later, the union decertified.
"The parties have not achieved an overall agreement," federal mediator George Cohen said, "nor have they been able to resolve the strongly held competing positions that separated them on core issues.
"No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time."
The players' union immediately shut down its websites - NFLPA.org and NFLPlayers.com. A search for NFLPA.org yielded this message: "Error 404: Football Not Found. Please be patient as we work on resolving this. We are sorry for the inconvenience."