The collective bargaining agreement expires Thursday night, giving the two sides just over three days to either settle on a new agreement or agree to temporarily extend the current agreement in order to work something out later this month.

The league and the union will get together under the auspices of federal mediator George Cohen Tuesday, and I keep hearing that what happens early in that session will set the tone for the rest of the week … and thus maybe the rest of the offseason.

Former Packers VP and sports law guru Andrew Brandt has been a phenomenal source during this process. Brandt seems to have the ability to read between the often confusing and loaded lines that surround the battle over the CBA. Here’s his take on tomorrow:

The first few moments of that meeting will foretell a lot. If the sides come back to say that they have caucused and are willing to be flexible on one or more of the core issues, then we have a chance for a CBA, even by Friday. However, if the parties come back still entrenched in their positions, hopes are dashed and the seven days of mediation may have been for naught.

We will know early in the day tomorrow if progress can be made or we are back to the morass of divergence.

Further complicating things is that a lack of a deal by midnight on March 4 doesn’t guarantee a work stoppage. The NFLPA is reportedly strongly considering decertifying prior to the deadline. With no union, there’s no such thing as bargaining. A broken union (a bunch of players) could then come together and attempt to file an injunction to block a lockout.

And there’s a possibility the league won’t lock out the players anyway, decertification or not. The owners have the option to simply declare an impasse on March 4, forcing the two sides to continue to work under the current CBA guidelines. That’s not likely to happen, as the league has already deliberately and accidentally hinted that a lockout is coming, but you never know what’s a bluff at this point. A declared impasse can be challenged, and the players could response by striking.

There are a slew variables affecting the situation, up to three days of bargaining remaining and a whole lot of nothing coming from both sides in terms of leaks. So sit tight. This sucks.