The NFL Players Association is handing out voting cards to the players that could lead to decertification of the union.
A source requesting anonymity told The Associated Press on Saturday players from all 32 teams will be asked to consider decertification, which could prevent the owners from locking them out after the collective bargaining agreement expires in March.
Should the union decertify, it could have the right to sue the league under anti-trust laws if the players are locked out. It is sending out voting cards now because, logistically, getting enough signatures after the season would be difficult, if not impossible.
The story was first reported by the Sports Business Journal, which cited a source as saying the New Orleans Saints already voted to decertify.
"This is purely a procedural matter and is a non-story until March," said George Atallah, the NFLPA's assistant executive director.
A letter sent to NFLPA membership has outlined to the players what voting for decertification would mean. DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director, frequently has said he expects the owners to lock out the players.
Smith will be meeting with each team over the next few weeks.
The letter also says if the union does not decertify before March and the expiration of the CBA, it can't sue the league for six months.
Decertification also would strip the union of collective bargaining rights on behalf of the players, and could affect marketing of the players through NFL Players, the marketing arm of the union.
The NFL said it has no comment on the union's action.
In 1989, two years after a failed players' strike, the NFLPA decertified. It returned as a union in 1993, when a contract was reached with the league that provided for free agency. That landmark CBA was renewed or restructured several times since 1993, including in 2006.
The owners opted out of that deal in 2008.