The National Football League completed an eagerly awaited deal with its referees Wednesday night to end its lockout of the sport’s regular officials and pave the way for them to return to the field immediately.
The league and the NFL Referees Association announced they had agreed to an eight-year labor pact and planned for the regular officials to work Thursday night’s game in Baltimore between the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. They are to officiate a full slate of games Sunday.
The NFL and the referees' union have reached a tentative contract agreement, ending an impasse that began in June when the league locked out the officials and used replacements instead.
Members of the Atlanta Falcons say they are frustrated by the replacement referees but also express understanding. Sean Weatherspoon, Roddy White, Matt Ryan, and Thomas Decoud comment.
“Our officials will be back on the field starting [Thursday] night,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”
The agreement between the league and the referees’ association ends the NFL’s use of the replacement officials who worked the entire preseason and the first three weeks of regular season games, sometimes with chaotic results.
Scott Green, the president of the referees’ association, said in a written statement: “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”
Negotiators for the two sides began the task late Wednesday night of putting the agreement into writing.
The officials are scheduled to meet Friday and Saturday to take a ratification vote. In the meantime, the NFL agreed to lift the lockout for Thursday night’s game. It is to be formally ended once a written deal is approved by the referees. No ratification vote by the NFL’s franchise owners is required.
Representatives of the two sides met into the night Wednesday. It was their second straight long day of negotiations after they’d made progress Tuesday during meetings in New York that began in the morning and lasted into early Wednesday morning.
The deal was reached in the wake of a firestorm of criticism voiced at the league after Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks ended with what to most eyes was a blown call by the replacement officiating crew that gave Seattle a last-second victory. The mounting pressure by fans, media members, players and coaches to bring the regular officials back was acknowledged earlier Wednesday by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
“Your loud voices [are] heard about getting Refs back,” Irsay wrote on Twitter. “We’re desperately trying [to] get it done! We want a deal that improves officiating overall.”
Reaction Wednesday afternoon at Washington Redskins headquarters in Ashburn to the pending return of the regular officials was just short of gleeful. The Redskins play Sunday in Tampa against the Buccaneers.
“It’d definitely be great to have them back out there,” said Lorenzo Alexander, a veteran Redskins linebacker. “Obviously they’re the refs for a reason. I think they’ll handle the games in a more professional manner and be more consistent. So it’d be great to have them back out there.”
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III pointed out that it would be a “new experience” for him to play with the regular officials on the field and said perhaps play will be “cleaned up” a bit.