(Sports Network) - The NFL and its officials' union appear to be nearing an
end to the lockout that has placed the games of the first three weeks of this
season in the hands of replacement referees.
NFL.com reported that the league and the NFL Referees Association intensified
talks on Wednesday morning, two days after the sport received a black eye by a
highly controversial ruling that decided Monday's game between the Green Bay
Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
The two sides have reportedly agreed to establish a developmental program for
officials that will be overseen by the existing crews, a compromise to the
NFL's initial call for 21 current replacement officials to be added to the
present 121-member group of the Referees Association.
Under the revised agreement, the developmental officials would work with the
regular crews during the week, but would not be NFLRA members or participate
in games initially. They could be considered for NFLRA membership over time,
however, following an evaluation period, with the overall financial pool to be
adjusted accordingly to count for new officials.
Discussions towards ending the lockout were picked up in the wake of Monday's
frenetic finish between the Seahawks and Packers, in which the replacement
crew awarded Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate a game-winning touchdown catch
while battling with Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings.
The NFL issued a statement on Tuesday supporting the substitute officials'
call of simultaneous possession that would correctly give Tate an official
catch, though the league also stated that Tate should have been penalized for
offensive pass interference on the play, which would have negated a touchdown.
The current schedule structure has also helped trigger the league's desire to
get a deal done. With only two teams -- Pittsburgh and Indianapolis -- having
byes in the upcoming week, the NFL would be in its best position to ensure
that the majority of its franchises would have the same amount of games under
the replacement groups.
NFL.com also stated that a chance exists that the regular officials could be
working this weekend's game, though a deal would have to be in place prior to
Thursday's Cleveland-Baltimore contest in order to prevent an inequity.
The league and Referees Association still have yet to resolve their
differences over financial issues, most notably retirement benefits.
The Sports Network