The NFL and the NFL Referees Association have reached a tentative agreement ending a three-month lockout.
The deal was reached late Wednesday night and the two sides will finalize the paperwork later this morning, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Regular union referees will be on the field in Baltimore tonight when the Ravens face the Cleveland Browns.
"Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a joint statement released by the NFL and NFLRA. "We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement."
The new collective bargaining agreement between the two sides would be for eight years, according to ESPN. The deal must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members, according to The Associated Press. They plan to vote Friday and Saturday in Dallas.
"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 referees worked the first three weeks of the regular season, and were under intense scrutiny from players, fans and coaches. The controversy reached its apex during "Monday Night Football" this week after a blown call on the final play of the fourth quarter cost the Green Bay Packers a win against the Seattle Seahawks.
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 Tuesday that the touchdown pass should not have been overturned, but acknowledged that Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 for grabbing a replacement referee's arm Sunday when he asked for an explanation on a call after his team lost to the Ravens in Baltimore. Belichick later apologized for his actions.
The fury over the replacement refs made it all the way to the White House, with President Obama tweeting earlier this week, "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon."
The NFLRA were seeking improved salaries and retirement benefits in their negotiations with the NFL during the lockout.
Retirement benefits would be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, according to the joint statement released by the NFL and NFLRA Wednesday night. An annual league contribution would be made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and there would be a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
Apart from their benefit package, the game officials' compensation would increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
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