The NFL league year ends in early March. So, technically, the NFL will cease operations on that date unless a CBA agreement is reached.
The NFL answers the question "will there be an NFL draft in 2011?" with a simple "yes"...but the reality is that its not that simple.
With no CBA, I suppose you could make the case that you could hold a draft, but in effect, the draft would have no set rules, and arguably would be non-binding.
First the rules. The draft was established to balance the competition, and because the CBA lays out the draft and how teams select players, without a CBA, theoretically, this could be complicated: suppose team A wants a all star Mel Guljxit. They call him up and make him an offer before the draft. Now team B is on the board and selects Mel. Who has the rights to him at that point, since the draft itself isn't part of a CBA? I have no idea, and I don't think the NFL does either. Sure, the owners could have a gentleman's agreement, but can you imagine if one of them decided to go out on his own?
As for the binding nature, a player coming out of college would be selected by a team. But there is no union for him to join, and there is no contract to sign (they can't have a contract if there's no CBA). So essentially, the teams are going to select the rights to a player. But what if an owner decided to sign the player - either before or after the draft - to a contract to work for *him* or something? That would certainly foul things up. And what if a player decided - you know I don't like team A, I'd rather play for team B. How binding is a draft that wasn't part of collective bargaining? I could see the potential for someone to sue to get out of playing for a team because there was no cba, and no intent to work.
This could be ugly. Or it could work; the NFL could simply tell everyone that it will work, and hope everyone just goes along.
I figure if a guy like Maurice Clarett can sue the NFL over the draft to gain entry to it, then its exceedingly possible that someone will test the boundaries of the legal nature of holding a draft, with no NFL to speak of.