NEW YORK — The NFL and the referees union reached a tentative contract agreement early today, ending an impasse that began in June when the league locked out the officials and used replacements.
The league said it planned to have regular officials work tonight's Cleveland at Baltimore game.
With commissioner Roger Goodell at the negotiating table, the sides worked late into the night and concluded two days of talks early today with the announcement of a tentative eight-year deal, which must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members. They plan to vote Friday.
"Our officials will be back on the field starting (tonight)," Goodell said in a joint statement. "We appreciate the commitment of the (National Football League Referees Association) 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."
Replacement officials 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 Green Bay a win on a chaotic final play at Seattle on Monday night, the two sides seemed to got serious.
The union sought improved salaries, retirement benefits and other logistical issues for the part-time officials. The NFL proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match, and wanted to hire 21 more officials to improve the quality of officiating. The union has fought that, fearing it could lead to a loss of jobs for some of the current officials, as well as a reduction in overall compensation.
The league had claimed its offers have included annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it means an overall reduction in compensation.
Replacement refs aren't new to the NFL. They worked the first week of games in 2001 before a deal was reached. But those officials came from the highest level of college football; the current replacements do not. Their ability to call fast-moving NFL games drew mounting criticism through Week 3, climaxing last weekend, when ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called their work "tragic and comical."
Those comments came on Monday Night Football, with Seattle beating Green Bay 14-12 on a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play. Packers safety M.D. Jennings had both hands on the ball in the end zone, and when he fell to the ground in a scrum, both Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had their arms on the ball.
The closest official to the play, at the back of the end zone, signaled for the clock to stop, while another official at the sideline ran in then signaled touchdown.
The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the TD pass should not have been overturned — but acknowledged Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch.
belichick fined: Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 for his conduct toward a replacement official. Belichick grabbed an official's arm Sunday night after the Ravens kicked a winning field goal.
BEARS: Running back Matt Forte expects to play Monday against Dallas after missing a game with a sprained right ankle.
CARDINALS: Running back Beanie Wells will miss at least seven games with a severe turf toe injury. Wells went on the league's new injured reserve/designated for return list. That lets him return to play Nov. 25.
CHARGERS: Receiver Malcom Floyd signed a three-year contract extension through 2015.
CHIEFS: Center and former Florida State standout Rodney Hudson went on IR with a broken bone in his left leg.
DOLPHINS: Running back Reggie Bush said he has recovered from his sprained left knee and can play Sunday against Arizona.
JETS: With All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis (knee) likely out for the season, the team will work on moving backup running back Joe McKnight to the secondary. McKnight last played cornerback in high school.
LIONS: An attorney for defensive tackle Nick Fairley asked a judge to approve a pretrial diversion program instead of putting the player on trial facing charges of drunken-driving and fleeing police. Fairley was charged after a May 27 arrest. … Quarterback Matthew Stafford (hamstring) didn't practice, Profootballtalk.com reported.
PANTHERS: Quarterback Cam Newton said he has moved on after being criticized last week by Steve Smith, saying he and his receiver are still "on good terms."
PATRIOTS: Former USF star and defensive tackle Terrell McClain signed. He was a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2011 but was waived in the preseason.
RAIDERS: They signed veteran defensive end Andre Carter to a free-agent contract.
STEELERS: The league fined safety Ryan Mundy $21,000 for the hit that knocked out Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and sent him to the hospital Sunday.
TITANS: The team placed Keyunta Dawson (hamstring) on IR and signed fellow defensive end Pannel Egboh.