As it turned out, the NFL's nightmare scenario -- a team losing a game it should have won -- was all it took for the league and the NFL Referees' Association to get back to the bargaining table and wrap up a new deal. Negotiations picked up momentum after the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers, 14-12, on Monday Night Football on a touchdown catch by Seattle receiver Golden Tate that was highly questionable.
"That game reshaped everything ... it shook me. I think it shook a lot of people," one NFL owner told Mike Freeman of CBS Sports.
According to several reports from many sources, the two sides have agreed to the details of a multi-year collective bargaining agreement that will bring the real officials back from their lockout and on the field for Thursday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.
From the joint statement released by the NFL and NFL Referees' Association:
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."
The NFLRA will vote to ratify the new CBA on Saturday. Because the CBA isn't in effect until that takes place, Goodell had to lift the lockout so that the real refs could work on Thursday night. Those officials set to work Sunday's games will retrieve their equipment in Dallas before and after the vote, and there may be a brief refresher seminar.
Compensation for the officials will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011, to $173,000 in 2013, and capping at an average of $205,000 by 2019. Starting in 2013, the NFL can make some officials full-time employees as well. To date, all officials have been part-time, seasonal employees, and most have other jobs outside the game.
The pension plan that the officials wanted to hold on to will reportedly be extended for another five years, with the retirement plans switching to 401k accounts after. The NFL wanted a new pool of 21 officials added to the NFLRA's current staff of 121 members, but the compromise will create a new developmental program.
The developmental officials will work with the existing crews and rise through the ranks as they are graded appropriately. Until they are deemed ready, the developmental refs will not be NFLRA members and cannot work games. It was the NFL's wish that a larger pool of officials be ready to sub in for refs that are either sick or injured, and that there be a program by which officials whose performance is considered sub-par would be "benched."
[Busbee: Replacement refs responsible for everything that's wrong in the world]
Both sides were concerned that the Thursday night teams are not subject to the competitive imbalance that would result from some teams playing games under the jurisdiction of the replacement officials. And the impetus was clear after the Monday night game -- the NFL and NFL Referees' Association met for at least 25 of the subsequent 36 hours.
Peter King of SI.com reported earlier Wednesday that Ed Hochuli, the Arizona attorney considered the dean of NFL officials by most fans and media people, has been engaging the locked-out officials in weekly rules-related conference calls. All officials got a Hochulli-implemented test once a week, and Big Ed the Muscular went over the results with his comrades.
"That's one of the reasons why the officials will be up to date and ready to go,'' a source told King. "Ed grabbed the bull by the horns and made sure that whenever this thing ended, the regular officials would be ready to go back to work immediately.''
"As soon as I heard the rumors today, I got down on the floor and started doing push-ups," Hochuli told Jeff Darlington of the NFL Network.
Stay tuned for more details as they are made available.