*The NFL first work stoppage since 1987 is a near-certainty. That’s because the union that represents the players has been decertified.

In the end, 16 days of mediated talks meant nothing. The bottom line is that the NFL, players and management could not reach agreement on a new deal. The current one expires today, and the league could lock out its players.

By decertifying, the union has cleared the way for individual players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NFL, which opted out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2008. The union has 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.