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“The players don’t have a lot of options now,” he added. “Certainly there is enough litigation remaining and they could win. They could have a game changer from their case in front of the NLRB, but there’s no indication when a decision might come there.

“So their best bet is keep negotiating.”

Others will argue that the latest victory for the owners is not a fumble recovery deep in the players’ territory. But after several wins for them _ and with another expected soon from Judge David Doty on what to do with TV money promised to the league even if no games are played _ Monday was a hard hit for the NFLPA.

“The law is on the players’ side if they can survive,” said agent/attorney Ralph Cindrich, who has been through every labor dispute between players and owners dating to the 1970s and the NFLPA’s infancy. “This is not a game changer for the owners, but it is a serious gain. The TV revenue (decision) in Judge Doty’s courtroom is critical now.”

If Doty awards the players the $707 million in damages they are seeking, as well as making the rest of the estimated $4 billion from the networks unavailable to the NFL, it would be a setback for the owners. But they could argue that because the NFLPA decertified as a union when CBA talks collapsed in March, it is not entitled to those damages.

Regardless, the spotlight will be on the courts, not the fields, for quite some time.

“Essentially the NFL does want and need to play, but there’s really no incentive from a financial and technical perspective to rush that,” Boland said. “They can allow the players to come back to them.”

Might the players’ resolve begin to fracture? NFLPA spokesman George Atallah adamantly doubts it.

“I don’t see that,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate to say it, it’s been our responsibility as an association and for the players to prepare themselves for the possibility of missing games, and that’s what a lockout is intended to do. You have to prepare yourself, so the reality is that every player … across the league, they’ve had the obligation, and we’ve had the obligation as an association to prepare them for that possible outcome, that unfortunate outcome.”