After three long months which include three horribly officiated weeks of NFL football the NFL Referee lockout has now finally come to an end. Late Wednesday night the NFL and the NFL Referees Association reached an agreement to send the regular union officials back to work on the field where they belong and remove the replacement referees from the field beginning as soon as tonight when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns.
The deal has yet to be signed but the NFL has temporarily lifted the lockout so that no more time will be missed by the regular referees. The deal will be voted on, approved and signed by the NFLRA and its 121 members sometime between Friday and Saturday thus totally ending the lockout and having the regular referees back for the remainder of the season and beyond.
It is an eight-year deal which will extend until the end of the 2019 season and the NFLRA got their wishes on many of the key terms which they wished for. Terms such as installing a new Developmental Program which new officials must go through before they are deemed game ready along with a pay raise from $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 a year in 2013 and up to $200,000 a year in 2019 are just a few.
The pension plan for the officials will remain the same until 2016 (or until the official earns 20 years of service, which ever may come first). Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires and all officials beginning in 2017 and an annual league contribution will be made for each official averaging more than $18,000 and will increase to $23,000 in 2019. The NFL will also partially match any additional contribution that any official makes to his own 401(K). Finally in 2013 the NFL will have the option to hire any official on a full-time basis (which in my opinion is way over due).
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the driving factor to get this deal done now was the debacle which happened on Monday Night on the final play of the Seattle Seahawks controversial 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers. After that the NFL, Roger Goodell and 31 team owners (the Packers do not have an owner) felt the pressure to give in to whatever demands the NFLRA may have had and to be quite honest they weren’t unreasonable demands at all.
Now that the lockout is finally over we can go back to focusing our attention to where it belongs and that is the action on the field. The old saying about game officials could have made any more sense than this year and that is a referee is at his best when no one even notices that he is there. That certainly will be the case after this week of play is over because I can guarantee that NFL officials for the first time will receive non-sarcastic standing ovations across the nation this week beginning tonight in Baltimore.