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The locked-out NFL officials will return to work Thursday. The league announced a settlement was reached late Wednesday with the NFL Referees Association, which had been locked out for three months.
It is an eight-year deal, the NFL announced. Union members will vote on ratification on Friday.
Thursday's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore will be the first game worked this season by union members, as the league lifted its lockout.
Greg Aiello, the NFL's public relations man, reported via Twitter at about midnight ET that an agreement had been reached.
The league and union issued a joint statement about 12:20 a.m. ET confirming the deal. It read:
The NFL and NFLRA are pleased to announce that they have reached an agreement tonight on an eight-year collective bargaining agreement, subject to ratification by the NFLRA, according to the statement.
"Our officials will be back on the field starting [Thursday] night," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement."
"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 long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating," Goodell said in a statement. "This agreement supports long-term reforms that will make officiating better. The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating."
"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. Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs."
Both sides were looking at the text and could sign the deal early Thursday, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reported late Wednesday a deal was done. Earlier, LaCanfora and other sources said a deal was imminent and included language that would allow members of the NFL Referees Association to work Thursday's game.
"Welcome back REFS glad y'all was able to get a deal done but thanks to replacements refs 4 trying their best given da circumstances," Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller wrote via Twitter.
Game officials have been preparing for a return. Veteran referee Ed Hochuli has been running sessions with nearly 100 officials, SI.com's Peter King reported.
Jim Daopoulos, an officiating consultant, told Pro Football Talk a deal had been signed.
The NFL and its referees strike a deal. Word comes two days after a controversial call made by a replacement ref in Monday night's Packers-Seahawks game gave the story national exposure. (AP Photo)
A source told the Reuters news agency an agreement was reached on the contentious issue involving the league's proposal to create a pool of backup referees.
Details began emerging overnight about the settlement and how officials would resume work. Among the items of note: Game officials will return to work immediately, eschewing preparation games. Other officials will travel to game sites for Saturday preparation meetings once a deal was ratified. Crews would be the same as in the 2011 NFL season.
The union wanted improved salaries, retirement benefits and other logistical issues for the mostly part-time referees. The NFL has proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match.
Talks resumed Wednesday morning and continued at league headquarters in New York past 11 p.m. ET. The sides also held a marathon session Tuesday with Goodell present. He also attended four meetings last week.
"We want to go back to work but it has to be the right deal for 121 guys," NFL field judge Boris Cheek said. "We have to be patient and let this work itself out."
Some coaches, including the Miami Dolphins' Joe Philbin and Cincinnati Bengals' Marvin Lewis, instructed players not to speak publicly on the issue, especially after a barrage of comments that accompanied Monday night's Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks game, which the Packers lost 14-12 on a missed call.
Details of the agreement were sketchy, but in addition to the proposal to create a pool of backup officials—apparently, 21 will be assigned to a taxi squad—a pension issue was resolved as well. Those officials would be called to service as replacements for officials found substandard by the league.
The proposal, according to PFT, includes a 4 percent pay increase and guarantee of 12 game checks this season.
Earlier, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported an "agreement in principle is at hand" between the league and the referees' union.
According to Mortensen, both sides made concessions in a long negotiation session Tuesday that was extended to 2 a.m. ET Wednesday. For the lockout to officially end and get the regular officials back on the field for all Week 4 games, however, it would require a deal before the end of Wednesday.
The NFL Network reported Tuesday that the NFL and the officials' union were committed to "expediting" their talks toward a deal this week.
This process comes on the heels of the controversial Hail Mary call Monday night when the Seahawks were erroneously credited for a game-winning touchdown against the Packers.
The 21-member taxi squad would be comprised of officials being groomed for NFL games, with focus on offseason and exhibition work to prepare them. The union used officials from the defunct NFL Europe program to evaluate prospects. Officials would be called to action if the league decided union game officials weren't performing to standard.
Always remember the 3 G's Girls,Golf, Gambling not in any particular order......:2thumbs:
After that fiasco on Monday they couldn't wait to get the regular officials back. Guess that even if we reach a deal will take a week or two to get the regular officials back on the field plan changed real quick , deal ok get a crew out for Thursday game NOW !