Report: NFL, refs close to agreement

The NFL's locked-out officials could return as early as this weekend after a marathon bargaining session lasted into the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to ESPN.

The NFL's locked-out officials could return as early as this weekend after a marathon bargaining session lasted into the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to ESPN.

The network reported on its website quoting sources on both sides that "an agreement in principle is at hand."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told FOXsports.com that he would not confirm an agreement has been reached.

"We are not commenting on that story," Aiello said.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, meanwhile, posted a tweet on Wednesday that stated: "Your loud voices r heard about getting Refs back. We're desperately trying 2 get it done! We want a deal that improves officiating overall."

The NFL — which locked out the officials in June after the league and the NFL Referees Association failed to come to deal on a new contract — has said previously that the replacement officials would work through Week 5. The NFLRA claims, however, that its members have passed physicals, have been trained and are set to go.

Once an agreement is reached, NFLRA members must gather in person to approve the new contract, which requires 50 percent plus one vote for ratification. Officials met in Dallas in 2001 to formally approve their previous deal with the NFL.

According to FOX Sports officiating expert Mike Pereira, the returning NFL officials could theoretically return to work in as few as three days. NFLRA members have remained engaged in comprehensive training sessions before and during the lockout and have passed the conditioning tests required to take the field.

The Cleveland Browns will travel to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday to kick off Week 4's action.

ESPN reported that both sides made concessions in order to get a deal struck. The agreement comes just days after Monday's debacle in Seattle where the replacement refs appeared to erroneously award the Seahawks a touchdown on a Hail Mary pass during the final play, which led to a 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers.

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