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NFL, refs reach deal to end lockout

The real refs are back! The NFL has reached a deal with the NFLRA to end the referee lockout.

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NFL Refs approve new deal, lockout officially over

The National Football League referees voted and approved their new eight-year deal with the league Saturday, according to the AP.

The measure passed by a vote of 112-5, which officially ends the lockout. Salaries will increase to $173,000 in 2013, and get up to to $205,000 by 2019.Following the vote, which took place in Irving, Texas, many refs will get on planes and fly off to various NFL cities in preparation for Sunday's games.

The deal was not official until Saturday morning, although the refs did return on Thursday night for the Browns-Ravens game with an agreement in place.

Fans around the league rejoiced as replacement referees have generated controversy in many NFL games. Frustrations reached an apex on Monday night, when a questionable final call determined the outcome of the Seahawks-Packers meeting. Said line judge Jeff Bergman:

"The last play of the game was something that was going to happen sooner or later. It gave us and the league an opportunity to get together and hammer out a deal that was going to get hammered out anyway."


NFL referees set to approve new deal

After months of deliberations with the National Football League, the referees finally reached an agreement that would have them return to the field for Week 4. Members of the referee's association will vote by secret ballot Saturday at the DFW Marriott in Irving, Texas, to ratify their new deal with the league.

The two parties had reached a tentative deal earlier in the week that allowed the regular refs to return in time for Thursday night's game between the Browns and Ravens. The 121 regular officials were locked out in June, and the NFL began the season with replacement officials.

Calls for the NFL to come to an agreement with the referee's union peaked after a controversial call by the replacement officials during the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

According to CBS Sports in Dallas/Fort Worth, field judge Boris Cheek said that officials are prepared to begin work immediately:

"We just know we're ready to go. We have our equipment, we have the things we need to be on the field for Sunday."


Goodell: 'I regret' replacement ref distraction

On Friday morning, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to fans of the league, expressing his apologies for the referee holdout that came to an end Wednesday night:

"I believe in accountability, not excuses. And I regret we were not able to secure an agreement sooner in the process and avoid the unfortunate distractions to the game. You deserve better."

A labor dispute between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association was not resolved in time for the regular season and for the first three weeks the officials on the field were filled by replacement referees with varying degrees of experience in the sport, but none at the NFL level.

The calls from the replacement referees were heavily scrutinized and came to a head at the conclusion of the Monday Night Football matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in Week 3. A Hail Mary from Russell Wilson that appeared to many to be an interception by M.D. Jennings was instead called a touchdown reception by Golden Tate, drawing harsh criticism from fans, analysts, players and coaches alike.

Despite the criticism, Goodell still praised the effort of the replacement officials in his letter for their attempt at the job:

"As a lifelong fan, this wasn't an easy process for anyone involved. I particularly want to commend the replacement officials for taking on an unenviable task and doing it with focus and dedication in the most adverse of circumstances."

Following the deal that was reached on Wednesday evening, the league's regular officials returned for Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, and will also be present for Sunday's entire slate of Week 4 games.

Read the entire letter here.

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Welcome back, real refs

The real refs are back, officiating Thursday's game between the Browns and Ravens.


Refs receive a round of applause

The crowd in Baltimore for Thursday night's game between the Ravens and Browns gave the real refs a standing ovation when they returned to the field for the first time since the lockout ended.


Ref that called Tate TD believes he was right

NFL replacement referee Lance Easley has been under heavy public scrutiny after awarding the Seahawks a game-winning touchdown on the final play of their game against the Packers Monday night, but he is standing by his controversial call.

Easley believes that he made the correct judgment is deciding that Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate had secured simultaneous possession with Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings in the back of the endzone as time expired. He believes the many analysts, players, coaches, and fans that feel differently are misguided, according to CBS Sports:

"It was the correct call," Easley told the entertainment website (TMZ). "I didn't do anything wrong."

The controversy over the call sparked a public outcry that may have sped up negotiations between the locked out NFL refs and the league. Commissioner Roger Goodell has lifted the lockout, as the two sides have reached an agreement. The regular referees will be in place for Thursday's game between the Browns and Ravens.


Goodell apologizes for use of replacement refs

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to fans Thursday during a conference call with reporters that focused on the new contract with the NFL Referees Association. Wednesday's deal officially ended the use of replacement officials who had been highly scrutinized over the past three weeks of the regular season:

"Sorry to have to put our fans through that," Goodell said, acknowledging a torrid, sometimes out-of-control showing from league's replacement officials. They were never ready for the speed of the game or its complexities, but Goodell expressed hope for a return to normalcy.

On Wednesday night, Goodell and the NFLRA agreed to a new eight-year contract that immediately allowed the NFL's refs to return to work after being lockout since the beginning of the preseason. The NFL's initial plan was to use the replacement referees until a new more favorable deal was reached with the NFLRA.

However, the NFL's plan backfired, as week-by-week concerns about the performance of the replacement officials grew and finally reached a boiling point with a game-changing blown call during the Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football:

"You always have costs for the short term, but you sometimes have to experience that to get to the right place in the long term. And that's sometimes a painful thing."

NFLRA referees will be officiating Thursday night's AFC North showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and visiting Cleveland Browns (8:20 p.m. ET on NFL Network).


Real refs assigned for Browns-Ravens on Thursday

The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens will be the first teams in the 2012 season to have their contest officiated by real NFL referees on Thursday night.

The seven-man officiating crew will be led by 10-year NFL referee veteran Gene Steratore and also includes 13-year veteran umpire Bill Schuster, head linesman Wayne Mackie, who has six years of NFL refereeing experience, line judge Jeff Seeman, with 11 years as a NFL official under his belt, field judge Bob Waggoner, a 16-year veteran, side judge Jimmy DeBell, who has been officiating in the NFL for four years, and back judge Greg Steed, an official with 10 years of NFL refereeing experience.

The replay official and replay assistant will be Larry Nemmers and Ken Dollar, respectively.

As for Week 4's remaining 14 scheduled games, officiating assignments will be announced for each on-site on game day after the NFL and NFL Referees Association's agreement on a collective bargaining deal Wednesday night.


NFLPA: NFL is 'safer' with real refs back

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith echoed growing league-wide player sentiments in a statement on Thursday, noting the alleviation of many safety concerns on the field following the NFL and NFL Referees Association's agreement on an eight-year collective bargaining deal that ended the official lockout on Wednesday night.

"Our workplace is safer with the return of our professional referees," Smith said. "We welcome our fellow Union members back on our field."

The replacement officials were coming under increasingly-heavy fire for a vast array of missed penalties, phantom calls and a lack of control on the field that led to aggressive play and violent hits that were often not flagged.

The replacement officiating problem hit its peak after Russell Wilson's last second game-winning heave to receiver Golden Tate on Monday night was ruled a touchdown and gave the Seattle Seahawks a stunning win over the Green Bay Packers in what appeared to be an interception.


The real referees knew it all along

Quality officiating isn't so easily replaced. The NFL's regular referees knew that from the start.


Life lessons with the replacement refs

The NFL reached an agreement with the referees union Wednesday night, and one of the craziest months in the history of pro football is officially over. Now that it's behind us, let's look back.


Ed Hochuli returns

I never thought I'd be so excited to see real referees.


The real refs are ready

America is ready to see Ed Hochuli back, but Ed Hochuli is probably more ready to see America again. In fact, all day Wednesday it appears as if Hochuli was getting ready for his close-up.

Hochuli has been training officials during the lockout in preparation for a resolution. This has probably allowed for a quick turnaround between today's agreement and the ability for refs to get moving toward officiating NFL games as quickly as Thursday. Hochuli says NFL officials have been watching hours and hours of video while taking 18 extensive rules tests to get themselves ready for an immediate return to action on the pro football field. Whether there will be rust or not remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the NFL referees are well-prepared to handle these circumstances thanks to Hochuli.

No doubt that NFL fans everywhere will be happy to see real referees on the field this week after the NFL and the NFLRA resolved their issues today. However, no one might be more jacked to return (no pun intended) than Football Hercules himself.


NFL referee agreement: Details of 8-year pact

The NFL and the NFL Referees Association ended the officials lockout when they agreed to an eight-year collective bargaining agreement Wednesday night.

The deal, which is the longest between the two sides in NFL history, will allow officals to return to the field for Week 4, beginning with Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. The agreement must still be ratified by the NFLRA membership with a vote planed for Friday and Saturday. To allow officials to work Thursday's game, Roger Goodell temporarily lifted the lockout.

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The major agreement points include a defined benefit pension plan, retirement benefits, an increase in compensation, the option to hire officials on a full-time basis and the ability to form an official training and development program. Goodell said the agreement will allow for long-term reforms that will improve officiating. Complete details of the major agreement points can be found below in the press release from the NFL.

  • Eight-year term covering the 2012-2019 seasons.
  • The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
  • Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
  • Apart from their benefit package, the game officials' compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
  • Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field.
  • The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.

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NFL announces deal with referees to end lockout

The NFL's lockout with the referees is officially over as the sides came to an agreement late Wednesday. There were reports the sides could be nearing an agreement earlier in the day, but NFL spokesman Greg Aiello made it official Wednesday night.

The agreement ends a more-than-four-month-long ordeal that forced the league to use replacement officials for the first three regular-season games. Despite the lockout, the officials held their own training sessions and will be ready to take over this week when Week 4 action begins on Thursday.

The deal comes after a number of controversial calls by replacement officials sparked plenty of debate this week. According to a report from Pro Football Talk, the officials will receive a pay raise of four percent.

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NFL, referees agree on new labor deal

The NFL and the NFL Referees Association have reportedly reached an agreement on a new labor deal that will allow the referees to begin officiating games immediately. That means that a crew of union refs is expected to be on the field on Thursday night when the Baltimore Ravens take on the Cleveland Browns.

According to Pro Football Talk, the union officials will gather in Dallas on Friday to receive their equipment and game assignments for Week 4's action. The same crews who worked together last season will be intact this year. An agreement between the referees and the league had reportedly been in place for much of Wednesday, but it all officially came together on Wednesday night. The terms of the deal have not yet been released.

Replacement officials came under even more scrutiny this week after a controversial ending to the Monday Night Football matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. As time expired, Golden Tate came down with a Hail Mary that was ruled a simultaneous catch in the end zone. The two officials signaled different things: One a touchdown and the other an interception. After review, the call on the field -- a touchdown -- was upheld, giving the Seahawks the win.

The controversial the play sparked may have been the straw that broke the camel's back -- though we'll likely never know for sure. Officials and the NFL did, however, get back to the negotiating table shortly thereafter before reaching a deal to end the lockout on Wednesday.

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Ed Hochuli has real refs ready

Ed Hochuli, arguably the most well known of the regular NFL referees, has been running training sessions with other regular officials for when a deal between them and the NFL is made. Hochuli has been running them every Tuesday night via a conference call where attendance, according to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, has ranged from 90-110 officials per week.

An unnamed referee was interviewed by King, and said he was happy with how Hochuli has set these sessions up:

"That's one of the reasons why the officials will be up to date and ready to go,'' the officiating source said. "Ed grabbed the bull by the horns and made sure that whenever this thing ended, the regular officials would be ready to go back to work immediately.''

If a deal between the officials and the NFL is struck within the next 24 hours, regular NFL officials will be in control of games this coming Sunday.

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Good call: NFL, refs close to ending lockout

The lockout of the NFL's Referee Association could come to an end before Week 4, according to multiple reports.


Replacement ref speaks

SB Nation sat down with an anonymous replacement referee to get his take on life as a replacement.


NFL closing in on a deal with replacement referees

The NFL seems to have moved a bit closer to having the legitimate referees this season sooner rather than later. The league and the NFL Referees Association have reportedly come to an agreement on backup crews, though pension still remains a hurdle, according to the NFL Network's Albert Breer.

The agreement on backup crews is an interesting one, but it at least solves that portion of the problem.

The NFL wanted to add 21 full-time officials but the two sides agreed to add 21 referees to a "developmental program" that will allow the additional officials to work with the regular crews during the week. The development referees will then get promoted when it is merited, according to Breer.

Though it's great that the two sides are agreeing to things, Breer reports that retirement is still the biggest hurdle remaining. The two sides have made strides on that, though, as the NFL brought benefits experts to Tuesday's meetings (that encompassed a jaw-dropping 17.5 hours, apparently).

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Locked out ref weighs in on MNF drama

Walt Anderson, a locked out NFL referee, weighed in on the final play of the Packers-Seahawks game. In an interview with Kevin Kietzman on WHB in Kansas City, Anderson said,

"I would've reversed it to an interception. I just feel like that the defensive player established control, certainly a greater degree of control than the receiver, both in the air and going to the ground. Just the fact that a receiver ends up having a hand on the ball does not necessarily constitute control. I felt like, watching it live, it was an interception. And watching all the replays, I would've come to the same conclusion had I been making the decision."

Anderson went on to say, "But it's pretty clear-cut, in terms of who has control whenever they finish the process of the catch. In my mind, I feel like it's an interception."

Anderson has been an NFL referee since 2003. Before that, he served as a line judge for seven years. He worked as a dentist before retiring in 2003.


The NFL owners say no more compromising to come

The NFL and its locked-out referees met until 2 a.m. Wednesday, but are still yet to find enough middle ground to strike a deal.

However, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the owners are no longer willing to compromise in the negotiation.

In the aftermath of the Monday Night Football debacle in the Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers game, the pressure is squarely on the NFL to work out a deal. The replacement referees have been officiating for the first three weeks and to this point, are still slated to work Week 4, which starts on Thursday.

The outrage since Monday has been palpable, clearly spurring the NFL to make some kind of a move in order to appease its fan base along with the players and coaches.

Multiple coaches have been fined so far for their conduct toward the replacement officials, including Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Denver Broncos head coach John Fox.

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Aaron Rodgers: 'I just feel bad for the fans'

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had plenty to be livid about after losing Monday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks on a controversial call by replacement referees, but he sounded more frustrated than angry in comments made on The Aaron Rodgers Show Tuesday morning.

When asked what he thought of the officiating that gave the Seahawks a 14-12 victory on a Hail Mary pass that appeared to be intercepted by Packers safety M.D. Jennings, Rodgers addressed the broader issue.

"First of all, I've got to do something that the NFL is not going to do, and I have to apologize to the fans. Our sport (has) generated a multi-billion dollar machine, by people who pay good money to come watch us play. And the product on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. The games are getting out of control," said Rodgers.

Rodgers later added that he was unimpressed by the NFL's statement about the call, saying that they were "covering their butt." He didn't go as far as to post NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's phone number on his Facebook page, or make any profane comments, but it's clear the eighth-year veteran is incredibly frustrated, and rightfully so.


Smith tells players ref lockout damages safety

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, released a statement to NFL players on Tuesday regarding the ongoing referee lockout. Smith told players that by locking out the referees, the NFL owners are jeopardizing the health and safety of the players, saying "this decision to remove over 1,500 years of collective experience has simply made the workplace less safe."

Smith went on to say that it is the NFL's responsibility to provide as safe a workplace as possible and went after the league's approach to the lockout:

"The League will want fans, the media and sponsors to talk only about ‘the product' on the field. We are not product."

The referee lockout situation may have reached its boiling point on Monday night, when a controversial call allowed the Seattle Seahawks to defeat the Green Bay Packers. Since that game, the league and the referees are reported to have scheduled a meeting for Tuesday.

Although there is little Smith and the NFL can do, he closed his statement by saying, "We are actively reviewing any and all possible actions to protect you."


NFL senses urgency to make a deal with refs

The NFL and the NFLRA is expected to meet Tuesday in hopes of moving closer to a deal that would end the use of replacement referees, SI.com's Peter King is reporting. The meeting between the two parties is taking place in the New York area less than 24 hours after Monday's controversial finish between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

The ending of Seattle's 14-12 victory, which featured an obvious blow call by the officials that led to the Seahawks winning on a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds, is expected to be the straw that broke the camel's back on this hot-button topic that was exposed during Week 3 of the NFL regular season.

However, there's still some doubt that the NFL and NFLRA can reach an agreement before the start of Week 4, which begins Thursday with the Baltimore Ravens hosting the Cleveland Browns (8:20 ET on NFL Network).

For more on the NFL replacement referees, check out the SB Nation NFL homepage.

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Replacement refs are awful and here's why

Those wacky replacement refs were at it again in Week 3. Here's the worst in officiating this week.


No Talks Between NFL, Refs Since Sept. 1

Talks between the NFL and its regular referees last happened on Sept. 1. Competing visions for the officials' retirement plan seems to be the biggest sticking point.


Replacement Ref Allegedly Asked LeSean McCoy For Fantasy Points

The NFL keeps on trotting our replacement officials, and more embarrassing incidents seem to pop up, with the latest involving Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy revealed in a radio interview with Sports Radio WIP that one official told him during the game, "McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy [team]."

SB Nation's NFL Replacement Ref tracker

This is the second terrible story in as many days reflecting poorly on the NFL's new officials; one referee was removed from a New Orleans vs. Carolina football game for being a Saints football fan. Players like Scott Fujita and London Fletcher have been less than pleased. And of course there have been numerous missed calls or bad moments that have stalled or delayed football games.

The league says they have a plan in place until Week 5, but right now the replacement officiating can't be encouraging.

Talk about McCoy with Eagles fans by heading on over to Bleeding Green Nation. For more on the league in general, head on over to SB Nation's dedicated NFL hub.

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NFL Has Plans For Replacement Refs Through Week 5, Says Report

Five weeks. The NFL has plans in place to use replacement referees through Week 5 of the 2012 season, according to a report from the Associated Press.

That report follows an earlier one from the NFL Network revealing that the league has the replacement crews scheduled for the first three weeks of the season. Steve Wyche of the NFL Network said that the plans through Week 5 are "tentative."

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Reports about the league's scheduling plans for replacement referees outnumber any reports of negotiations between the league and its regular officials represented by the NFL Referees Association, who have been locked out by the league since June.

The two sides last talked in early September, prior to the start of the regular season. Expanding plans to use replacements through Week 5 would not seem to bode well for progress between the league and its usual officials.

Talks over a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and referees stalled over disagreements on salaries, benefits and accountability measures for working officials.

Check out the SB Nation Channel on YouTube


Thought Experiment: Could The NFL Function Without Officials?

It looks like the NFL might be stuck with replacement officials this season. But what if we did away with officials entirely? Is there any system in which the NFL could function without them? Here, we do our best to come up with one.


NFL Still Thinks Replacement Referees Will Begin Regular Season

With little more than two weeks remaining prior to the start of the NFL's regular season, Ray Anderson, head of the league's officiating department, stated in an interview with Newsday that the league is planning to start the year with replacement officials.

The NFL is currently in negotiation with the NFL Referees Association and the two sides are having a difficult time coming to terms on common ground.

The source of the contention is based in a seven-year contract offer from the NFL that also proposed an increase of 21 officials to the current pool. With the referees seeking a 20% raise in salary, the union is arguing that an addition of staff would ultimately only lower their pay. In addition, the officials want to keep the structure of their current pension plan, while the NFL is interested in altering it.

This has left Anderson looking towards a future without his regular officials.

Via Newsday:

"I would anticipate that it would go into the regular season, unless the parties get back to the table in a hurry,'' Anderson said. "And frankly, I don't see either of us stepping forward and making that move.

"We feel we have been aggressively fair in our offer on the economic and non-economic issues, and they don't. Until that bridge is narrowed or shortened some, and I don't know when that time might come, I'm focused on getting the current officials ready for Week 3 and Week 4 ."

For more on the NFL and referees lockout, check out this StoryStream. For more on the NFL Preseason, be sure to check out SB Nation's NFL page.


Replacement Refs Are Confusing Cities Now

How well are the replacement refs doing? Not so well. Not so well at all, in fact.

During a matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons, a replacement ref reviewed a play. After stumbling through the ruling, he said "Arizona will not be charged a timeout." This was, technically, true. The Cardinals were not charged a timeout ... because they weren't playing in the game.

Arizona played last Sunday against the Saints. The Cardinals play again tomorrow night in Kansas City. I just ... man it's going to be a long season.

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