Goodell and Pash had been in regular contact throughout the referee negotiations with a four-member advisory panel of influential owners—the Atlanta Falcons’ Arthur Blank, the Houston Texans’ Robert McNair, the New York Giants’ John Mara and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Clark Hunt. League officials had spoken with about 20 owners who’d attended committee meetings last week in New York. And they heard from owners in the aftermath of the Monday night game. Some were alarmed by what they’d seen.
“I certainly felt an urgency [to finish a deal] before Monday,” said the owner who asked to speak anonymously. “But after Monday, I felt more urgency. I didn’t see how you could go into the weekend [with the replacements]. We were in an impossible position for them to do their jobs with the scrutiny they were under.”
Still, the overwhelming sentiment from the owners to the league, according to a person familiar with the dialogue, wasn’t panic. Stay the course, they told negotiators. Don’t overreact to one call in one game.
“There was not one single owner who ever said, ‘We need to get this settled, whatever it takes.’ Not one single owner,” that person said. In fact, some owners wanted to make no further concessions, even after the fiasco in Seattle.
“There were a lot of owners that wanted to hold firm even after Monday night,” the owner said. “These guys aren’t used to getting pushed around. They didn’t get to where they’ve gotten in business by getting pushed around. A number felt we should continue to hold the line. But others felt we should move and get it done. And fortunately their side [the referees] moved, too. It took both sides to move. They were under pressure, too, with the games they were missing.”
The views of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder were not clear Thursday. Snyder declined to comment through a spokesman.
Goodell and other league negotiators felt comfortable compromising with the referees, said the owner who spoke anonymously, after they became convinced they’d have the support of crucial owners. But even ownership moderates, the owner said, had no interest in striking a deal at any cost, just to push the replacements off the field.
“I would have liked to have done it a little sooner,” the owner said. “But you can’t cave in and give them everything they want. It sets a horrible precedent for the rest of your business. The owners really wanted to get out of the [pension] plan. The question was whether that was going to happen in year one, year five, year eight. It ended up being year five, closer to what they [the referees] wanted than what we wanted. But the feeling at that point was, let’s get the principle we want and not worry too much more about the money.”
Under the compromise, reached this week, pensions for current officials will be frozen after the 2016 season. At that point, they will be moved into 401(k) retirement plans. All newly hired officials will have 401(k) plans.
The deal also gives the officials raises that will reach an average of $205,000 in 2019, the final year of the agreement. The league achieved its goals of making some officials full-time employees and increasing the total number of officials. A developmental pool of officials could be assigned to cover games in place of officials the NFL regards to be under-performing.
Kraft called those non-economic provisions particularly important. All of this week’s angst, he said, was worth it.
“When you want to do a deal long term, you can’t let short-term pressures affect you,” Kraft said. “I think we’ve done that in the past and we were resolved not to do that again. . . . Roger took a lot of hits. But in the end, he did what was right for the game long term.”