It won’t change the final disastrous call in the Packers/Seahawks game, but the NFL’s replacement referee nightmare is over.
The league and the NFL Referees Association reached an agreement overnight to end the tense three-month lockout and send regular officials back to work for this week’s scheduled games, starting with Thursday night’s matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
The agreement comes after two full days of face-to-face talks following Monday's phone conversations in wake of the blown ‘touchdown’ call that resulted in the Seattle Seahawks winning a game against the Green Bay Packers –that infuriated league officials, players, and fans.
"We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field, and I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players, where it belongs."
"The moment I heard, I dropped down on the floor and started doing pushups," quipped longtime referee Ed Hochuli, known for his bulging biceps. (Hochuli had been working to keep the officials mentally sharp during the lockout via tests and weekly conference calls.)
"Subject to this being approved (by the full vote of union members), I'm excited to get back. We all are. It's good to enjoy your job, and we enjoy our job. It's a lot of hard work and a lot of pressure, and it takes a lot of training to do it. We're glad we're going to get a chance to get back out and go to work."
The deal is for eight years and runs through the 2019 season; it’s the longest such contract between the NFL and the officials in league history.
Under the agreement:
-- 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 then will 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.
The deal still must be ratified in person by the 121 members of the NFLRA. The vote will be taken Friday in Dallas, where the officials will convene to pick up their equipment and their Sunday or Monday game assignments.
Goodell lifted the lockout so the regular officials can work Thursday's game.