FOX Sports Exclusive
NFL ref negotiations at a standstill
Despite the hideous aftermath of Monday night’s prime time NFL debacle in Seattle — a 14-12 Seahawks victory over the Green Bay Packers marred by the most controversial and questionable decisions yet by a replacement officiating crew – there is no good news regarding negotiations between the NFL and representatives of the locked-out NFL Referees Association.
Both sides were locked in meetings at a Manhattan location for a fourth consecutive day on Tuesday, a source with direct knowledge of the talks told FOXSports.com, yet the NFL was holding firm on saying no to two issues that are key to the NFLRA side.
--Oversight. While the NFL referees group feels it does a credible job grading and assigning its officials based on performance, the NFL insists it must have more control regarding what happens to underperforming officials.
To that end, the NFL wants to have three seven-member officiating crews at the ready who could step in and replace officials it feels aren’t making the grade. An underperforming official could be pulled for an entire game or even longer.
The NFLRA, which has prepared and trained a list of up-and-coming officials to replace those near retirement age, is opposed to the notion of the NFL choosing a taxi squad of crew that could undermine their chemistry, experience and perspective.
--Retirement benefits. The locked-out officials would like the NFL to honor their previous pension plan of a guaranteed payout upon retirement, while the league insists it must follow corporate cost-cutting practices by tying non-guaranteed retirement amounts to a 401(k) defined pension that applies to other NFL full-time employees.
The regular officials, all of whom were part-time NFL employees before the lockout, continue to argue that the NFL’s $9 billion in revenue for 2012 is a monstrous sum in comparison to the $5.3 million per year the league contributed to the officials’ longstanding pension agreement.
The NFL says it will save about $3.3 million a year by converting the contributions to a 401(k) plan.
--The NFLRA has asked for an 8 percent pay increase per game for its officials; the NFL is offering a compensation increase of 2.5 percent.
One big hitch here: While the NFL says it wants to add at least 21 additional officials to its employee pool for the taxi squad of crews, the league isn’t offering to significantly boost its overall game-day lump sum payroll to its officials.
That payroll was about $18.6 million in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times. Officials are paid varying amounts per game according to seniority.
So any raise the locked-out officials are seeking likely will go toward paying the 21 new guys the NFL wants to keep on-call, the ones who will take the spot of a regular official on game day if he or she makes a mistake.
Where does everything stand after a fourth consecutive day of talks?
“There hasn’t been much movement by either side (Tuesday),” a source told FOXSports.com.
And so the negotiations go on, and the furor builds.
NFL players and fans no longer have faith in the rag-tag cast of replacements and fill-ins – some with sketchy backgrounds and most boasting negligible experience to make rules calls at a highly charged NFL level.
Yet this NFL-vetted group has now officiated games three full regular-season weeks.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith issued a statement Tuesday to players saying the union is deeply concerned about workplace safety for its members.
"The decision by the NFL owners to lock out the referees jeopardizes your health and safety. This decision to remove more than 1,500 years of collective experience has simply made the workplace less safe," Smith told NFL players in his statement.
"It is the NFL’s duty to provide a workplace that is as safe as possible. The League will want fans, the media and sponsors to talk only about ‘the product’ on the field. We are not product.
"While the focus today is about a blown call and the outcome of one football game, our focus as a family of players is and will remain squarely on workplace safety.
"Contrary to some reports, we are not crossing any picket line. The referees are not on strike. The Owners locked them out.
"We are actively reviewing any and all possible actions to protect you."
NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell are publicly backing the officiating decisions made by the crew Monday night led by referee Wayne Elliott, whose previous experience includes being a referee for Texas high school games, officiating indoor pro football games and serving as the secretary of the Austin Football Officials Association.
The NFL took its time Tuesday making a public statement about what happened at CenturyLink Field.
“Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball,” the NFL’s statement read. “While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground.
“This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay,” the NFL conceded.
“When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player,” the NFL statement also read. "The result of the play was a touchdown.”
The sports world can continue to groan and cry foul. For now, the NFL and its owners – armed with the reality that locked-out officials lose bargaining power each week that they lose valuable paychecks – seem content to let the flames of discontent burn around their precious shield.