It's time to welcome Ed Hochuli and the rest of the NFL officials back into your life! More importantly, it's time to say farewell to the replacement refs. A deal between the NFL and the NFLRA has been agreed upon on Wednesday evening, according to Greg Aiello of the NFL.
The ref lockout is over.
Beginning with reports by Chris Mortensen of ESPN and Judy Batista of The New York Times earlier in the day that an agreement was close, a steady drumbeat of positive dispatches emerged from negotiations that reportedly gained intensity after the officiating debacle on "Monday Night Football," when the Seahawks defeated the Packers, 14-12, by way of disputed touchdown as time expired.
Described as "a tentative contract agreement" by The Associated Press, the new 8-year deal must still be ratified by the union members on Friday. According to ProFootballTalk, the officials will vote on the deal in Dallas, where they will also pick up equipment and receive complete Week 4 assignments.
With the referee lockout having come to an end, NFL teams and fans have just one question: How soon can these guys be ready to go? According to Albert Breer and Jeff Darlington of NFL.com, the officials are ready to work immediately.
NBC officiating consultant Jim Daopoulos tweeted that experienced officials would likely be staffing "Thursday Night Football," less than 24 hours after Aiello announced the agreement. Adam Schefter of ESPN also reported that union refs would be in action on Thursday.
In a joint statement issued by the NFL and the NFLRA, via NFL Communications, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed that union officials would indeed be working effective immediately.
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.
“Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow 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.”
As noted by Alicia Jessop of Forbes, the agreed upon 8-year pact is the longest ever between the referees' union and the NFL. The deal allows current officials to keep their disputed pensions through 2016 and will switch them over to 401ks in 2017, per Mike Sando of ESPN.com.
That the union officials were able to stave off the pension freeze that the NFL had been aiming for, grandfathering existing pension plans into the new deal, makes this seem less than the decisive victory that the NFL had hoped for when it went to the replacement officials.
However, the drop in competency between the union refs and their replacements may have forced the league's hand.
Regardless of the impetus for the new deal, the name that began trending on Twitter as reports of the agreement proliferated was none other than Hochuli, the most recognizable -- and muscular -- of the league's union zebras. Earlier on Wednesday, Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that Hochuli was keeping his colleagues prepared to return to the field as quickly as possible after an agreement. Reached by Jeff Darlington of NFL.com after this deal was forged, Hochuli's response surely didn't disappoint his fans.
"As soon as I heard the rumors today, I got down on the floor and started doing pushups,” Hochuli said.
Welcome back, Ed.
MORE FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK — The NFL and the referees' union have reached a tentative contract agreement, ending an impasse that began in June when the league locked out the officials and used replacements instead.
The NFL said it planned to have regular refs work Thursday night's Cleveland-Baltimore game.
With Commissioner Roger Goodell at the table, the sides concluded two days of talks at midnight Thursday with the announcement of a tentative 8-year deal, which must be ratified by the union's 121 members.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted "Pleased to report that an agreement has been reached with the NFL Referees Association. Details to follow."
The replacements 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 the Green Bay Packers a win on a chaotic final play at Seattle on Monday night, the two sides really got serious.
It was not certain who would work this week's games, but ESPN reported regular refs will work Thursday night with Baltimore hosting Cleveland.
The union was seeking improved salaries, retirement benefits and other logistical issues for the part-time officials. The NFL has proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match, and it wants 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 NFL 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 during "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 and then signaled touchdown.
The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the touchdown pass should not have been overturned – but acknowledged Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch. The league also said there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the call made on the field.
That drew even louder howls of outrage. Some coaches, including Miami's Joe Philbin and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, tried to restore some calm by instructing players not to speak publicly on the issue.
Fines against two coaches for incidents involving the replacements were handed out Wednesday.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was docked $50,000 for trying to grab an official's arm Sunday to ask for an explanation of a call after his team lost at Baltimore. And Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was tagged for $25,000 for what the league called "abuse of officials" in the Redskins' loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Two other coaches, Denver's John Fox and assistant Jack Del Rio, were fined Monday for incidents involving the replacements the previous week.
"I accept the discipline and I apologize for the incident," Belichick said.
Players were in no mood for apologies from anyone.
"I'll probably get in trouble for this, but you have to have competent people," Carolina receiver Steve Smith said. "And if you're incompetent, get them out of there."
Added Rams quarterback Sam Bradford: "I just don't think it's fair to the fans, I don't think it's fair to us as players to go out there and have to deal with that week in and week out. I really hope that they're as close as they say they are."
They were. Finally.
AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami, Steve Reed in Charlotte, and R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this story.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more