Criticism of NFL replacement officials has intensified after the second week of games, with loud, public pleas by players and commentators for the league to reach an agreement with its locked-out referees and get them back on the field.
“It’s just like a team of rookies,” Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said of the replacement officials, who, some players and coaches said, nearly lost control of Washington’s contest with the St. Louis Rams. “If you’ve got a whole bunch of rookies on an NFL roster, you’re going to have a lot of mistakes out there. So it’s the same thing and that’s what we’re getting.”
Mike Pereira, the league’s former vice president of officiating and now an NFL rules analyst for Fox, publicly asked Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, a member of the NFL negotiating committee, to end the lockout.
“Arthur... get the refs to the table tomorrow and get this done,” Pereira wrote on Twitter Monday during the Falcons-Broncos game.
But if pressure on the league to strike a deal with the NFL Referees Association was increasing, there was no sign of a breakthrough. The league continued to stand by the work of replacement officials.
“Officiating is never perfect,” the league said in a written statement released Monday. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure. As we do every season, we will work to improve officiating and are confident that the game officials will show continued improvement.”
There appears to be much to improve. The NFL removed a replacement side judge, Brian Stropolo, before Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers after it was reported that photos of him wearing Saints gear were on his Facebook page.
Several games during the weekend, including the Redskins’ loss at St. Louis and the Philadelphia Eagles’ win over the Baltimore Ravens, featured scuffles among players. Some games seemed to drag on while officials worked through rules and replay issues, prompting complaints about the flow of play.
“The control of the game is the biggest thing—the chippiness, guys [taking] cheap shots,” Alexander said Monday in the locker room at Redskins Park. “Some of that stuff, the other refs don’t have tolerance for. ... As soon as you start throwing 15-yard penalties on people, I think that gets guys to calm down a little bit.”
The NFL Players Association has called replacement officials a safety issue for players. Alexander said he’s beginning to have concerns.
“You’re going to come up with schemes, come up with techniques or a mentality and push the envelope as far as the refs allow you to do. Until they call it, why wouldn’t you do it, if it’s going to give you an advantage to win games? …Guys were getting thrown down, literally getting tackled, covering kickoffs [Sunday]. But they’re not calling it. So as a player, why not do it?”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said he never had seen a game like Sunday’s defeat. “I’ve never been in a situation where you feel that there is going to be an explosion on the field,” Shanahan said Monday. “You’re hoping that doesn’t happen. It was very close to losing control.”
The Redskins lost in part because of a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on wide receiver Josh Morgan for throwing the ball at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan after a play. Shanahan said Morgan shouldn’t have lost his poise. But he also said there was “no question” that an uncalled hit to the helmet of Redskins tight end Fred Davis should have resulted in a flag. And the Rams should have been penalized for throwing a challenge flag on a play that was not subject to a coach’s challenge, he said.
The Redskins weren’t alone in their ire over the replacements. After the Ravens had a critical touchdown catch negated by an offensive pass interference call in their loss to the Eagles, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco said: “The NFL and everyone always talks about the integrity of the game and things like that, and I think this is right along those lines. Not to say that these guys are doing a bad job, but the fact that we don’t have the normal guys out there is a little crazy.”
Pereira wrote Sunday on Twitter that “the regular refs need to get back on the field. Enough is enough.”
Last Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the replacement officials had performed well in the opening week of games and the league could continue to use them as long as needed. “They did a very credible job,” Goodell said, “and they’re only going to get better.”
Goodell said there were no active negotiations with the referees association at that point. The league made a failed negotiating push to strike a deal with the locked-out referees days before the regular season began.
The league and the referees are bargaining over salaries, benefits and non-economic issues. The NFL wants to increase the number of officials, make some of them full-time employees and enhance its ability to replace the ones it considers underperformers.
Average compensation for a game official last year was $149,000, according to a memo sent by league attorney Jeff Pash to all NFL teams, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post and other media organizations. According to Pash’s memo, the league offered before the lockout to increase pay to $189,000 by 2018.
The referees association responded that the NFL was involved in a “misinformation campaign.” The organization says it just wants a fair deal that wouldn’t come close to taxing the sport’s mammoth revenues. Officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.