The NFL and its locked-out officials agreed to terms on a new deal late Wednesday night which would put officials in place for this weekend’s games — including Thursday night’s game — sources close to the situation confirmed. Both the NFL and the officials’ union later issued statements confirming the deal.
According to the sources, the final sticking point related to the much-discussed pension plan, but that stalemate finally ended.
The sides are currently working on paperwork according to sources and at least half of the 121 locked-out members must approve the new deal, but sources said that is expected to be a formality, with the vote coming Friday.
”Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night” for the Cleveland-Baltimore game, commissioner Roger Goodell said. ”We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”
The agreement, which is an eight-year deal, culminated two long days of talks that included Goodell at the table. The deal must be ratified by 51 percent of the union’s 121 members. They plan to vote Friday and Saturday in Dallas.
”Our Board of Directors has unanimously approved taking this proposed CBA to the membership for a ratification vote,” said Scott Green, president of the NFLRA. ”We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”
The NFLPA issued a statement Thursday, saying "Our workplace is safer with the return of our professional referees. We welcome our fellow Union members back on our field."
The replacements worked the first three weeks of games, triggering a wave of frustration that threatened to disrupt the rest of the season. After a missed call cost the Green Bay Packers a win on a chaotic final play at Seattle on Monday night, the two sides really got serious.
The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the touchdown pass should not have been overturned – but acknowledged Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch. The league also said there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the call made on the field.
The agreement hinged on working out pension and retirement benefits for the officials, who are part-time employees of the league. The tentative pact calls for their salaries to increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
Under the proposed deal, the current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season or until the official earns 20 years’ 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. The annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019.
Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year round, including on the field. The NFL also will be able to retain additional officials for training and development, and can assign those officials to work games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the league.
”As you know, this has to be ratified and we know very little about it, but we’re excited to be back. And ready,” referee Ed Hochuli told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ”And I think that’s the most important message – that we’re ready.”