The worst-case scenario has arrived after two deadline extensions on the collective bargaining agreement went to waste. The National Football League Players Association is set to decertify, according to several sources including ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Although this was widely expected for much of the week, there was a renewed sense of cautious optimism this morning as news broke that the owners had made a last-ditch offer. But after over four hours of negotiation, word came out that union leader DeMaurice Smith told his players in a conference call that they were going to dissolve in an attempt to get a better deal through the court system.

This isn’t surprising, because the NFLPA has all the leverage and pro-union Judge David Doty on their side. Just yesterday, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash criticized Smith and Co. for, essentially, not negotiating in good faith. The frustrated owners met amongst themselves behind closed doors on Thursday, and that pissed the players association off.

What’s odd is that, based on their lack of leverage, the owners can’t like their chances in court. Now we’ve wasted taxpayer money for 16 days of mediation. It doesn’t make sense.

Let’s be clear: neither side will “win” with fans. Generally, fans don’t pay attention to the precise details of the negotiation process. They just see rich people fighting rich people over who gets to be richer. Because even if one of these parties gets screwed, they’re still better off than the rest of society, from a financial standpoint (and it’s a financial gap of over $500 million and a lack of financial transparency that separates the competing parties).

ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio summed it up nicely:

So the union is probably no more. The players will be trade workers now, and that’s why they can and will launch a lawsuit at the league for violating antitrust laws.

We’re ┬ástill trying to figure out if or when free agency and the offseason will begin. All we know at this point is that it looks as though things will be settled in a court of law, not in collective bargaining.

The players will hope that Judge Doty again sides with the union. The owners will hope that the courts find that decertification is a deliberate ploy and that the players have no intention of staying “dissolved” long term.

Stay tuned.