We may not have the replacement referees to kick around for much longer, according to a report by Chris Mortensen of ESPN. The officiating debacle that marred the latest edition of "Monday Night Football" has reportedly brought the NFL and the NFLRA back to the bargaining table with renewed urgency.
Citing a source familiar with the negotiations, Mortensen reports the NFL and NFLRA made progress at the negotiating table on Tuesday night and an "agreement in principle is at hand." It's possible that the locked-out officials return for Week 4. However, Mortensen writes that the NFL owners are still not willing to compromise.
A source close to the situation also informed the Associated Press talks took place on Monday night and broke off 2 a.m. before resuming again later on Tuesday. Unlike Mortenson's insider, the AP source did not comment on the status of the negotiations.
ProFootballTalk cautions that this could be the first of many reports that the referee lockout is "close" to ending. So, don't totally set aside your boycott plans just yet.
The replacement referees have been the story of the NFL season thus far, creating chaos throughout the first three weeks with missed calls and an inability to control the game.
More from Associated Press:
Two days after a controversial call cost the Green Bay Packers a win, the NFL and the referees' union are reportedly nearing an end to a lockout that put replacement officials on the field since the start of the season.
According to several reports, the NFL and the union are close to a new deal that would allow the league's regular officials to return to work, possibly as early as this weekend. ESPN reported Wednesday that "an agreement in principle is at hand," and The New York Times reported that the sides "were closing in" on a way to end the impasse. ESPN cited unidentified sources from both sides; the Times cited a person briefed on the negotiations.
The NFL declined to confirm that a deal was imminent.
"Until somebody tells me differently, it's not really changed," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Still, even the suggestion that regular refs could be back as early as Sunday was greeted with welcoming words.
"If it's final and they are, I'm sure a lot of people will be happy – and I'll be one of those guys, too," running back Adrian Peterson said on a conference call from Detroit in advance of the upcoming Vikings-Lions game.
NFL agent David Canter tweeted: "Welcome back real refs. Just remember when you blow a call you'll get no sympathy."
A person briefed on the negotiations told The Associated Press that the talks between the league and its officials resumed Wednesday after a short break after going a 14-hour meeting that started Tuesday. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the discussions were not made public and would not characterize the talks.
The debate over the use of replacement officials has raged since the start of the season, and boiled over after the final play of the Packers-Seahawks game. A last-second scrum in the end zone was ruled a game-winning touchdown by Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. But Packers players, their fans and much of the football-watching public saw an interception by Green Bay's M.D. Jennings.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay's quarterback and the reigning league MVP, used his weekly radio show Tuesday as a platform to lash out at the NFL and question its priorities.
Even President Barack Obama has weighed in on the dispute, tweeting Tuesday that "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon."
Even a deal was reached it was still uncertain how it would affect the weekend's games.
"Your loud voices r heard about getting Refs back," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter. "We're desperately trying 2 get it done! We want a deal that improves officiating overall."
AP Sports Writers Richard Rosenblatt, Larry Lage and Michael Marot contributed to this report.
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