ATLANTA " The NFL owners voted unanimously Tuesday to end their agreement with the players' union in 2011, two years before the deal was to expire.
The league, however, emphasized that it will keep negotiating with the NFL Players Association and said games will be played "without threat of interruption for at least the next three seasons."
The owners had until Nov. 8 to opt out of the agreement, a provision written into the deal when it was signed in March 2006. They decided to act early, partly because they didn't want to do so while the 2008 season had begun.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, said on Sirius NFL Radio he learned of the owners' decision by e-mail from commissioner Roger Goodell.
"My response to his e-mail was very simple: 'What a surprise,"' Upshaw said sarcastically.
Upshaw has been predicting this the last few months and last weekend referred to the owners as "greedy."
Essentially, the deadline for a new contract is March 2009, an agreement that would avoid a 2010 without a salary cap. The original contract, signed in 1993, specified that the final year of the deal be without a cap.
"As they say during the draft, we're on the clock," Upshaw said. "That's basically what it means."